Cherry trees line the rim of tidal basins in two cities – Washington DC and Portsmouth NH – and both cities are commemorating the history of the cherry trees and their common link to the Portsmouth Peace Treaty of 1905. This year, Washington DC is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the gift of cherry trees from Japan to the US “as a living symbol of friendship between the Japanese and American peoples.” The Japanese Government is commemorating the anniversary by donating cherry trees grown from cuttings of the original DC trees to select cities around the country. Portsmouth is one of only three cities in New England (the others are Boston and Pawtucket) selected to receive the special trees.
The gift of the trees recognizes the little-known fact that the famous Washington trees were given to the United States in thanks for the diplomacy that led to the signing of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty. According to the official Cherry Blossom Festival book by Ann McClellan, the original gift of cherry trees expressed “Japan’s gratitude for America’s role in negotiating the peace treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, signed at a conference hosted by President Theodore Roosevelt in Portsmouth NH in 1905.”
The cherry trees will be located at key treaty sites throughout the city, to recognize the many different people who supported the treaty negotiations including the Navy, State, City and all the New Hampshire citizens involved in citizen diplomacy. The trees will serve as a memorial to New Hampshire citizen diplomacy that the state commemorates with the observance of Portsmouth Peace Treaty Day on September 5th each year.
On August 30, 1909 an official letter from Japan to the US Department of State notified Washington that the city of Tokyo intended to donate cherry trees to the United States. The letter, from Yukio Ozaki, Mayor of Tokyo said, “Prompted by a desire to show its friendly sentiments to its sister Capital City Tokyo has decided to offer as a gift two thousand young trees raised in Japan.” Mayor Ozaki wrote in his autobiography: “I always wanted to show, in some way, appreciation to the government of the United States for their kindness shown to Japan during the Russo-Japanese war… I took the liberty to send the trees as a gift from the city of Tokyo.”
The Japan-America Society of New Hampshire is assisting the Consul General of Japan in Boston with preparations for a tree planting ceremony on May 11, 2012 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and at Wentworth By the Sea where a magnolia has grown for 100 years, reputedly the gift of the Japanese for the hospitality extended by the hotel to the Japanese delegation. May 11th is the birthday of Henry Willard Denison, son of Lancaster, New Hampshire and legal advisor to the Japanese Foreign Ministry from 1870-1914, who accompanied the Japanese delegation back to New Hampshire in 1905.
Other tree locations will include Strawbery Banke Museum, under the supervision of the Historic Landscapes Curator, as a symbol of the citizen diplomacy expressed by residents including the Shapiro Family whose homes are now part of the Museum; and the John Paul Jones House Museum where the Japan Society’s Portsmouth Peace Treaty exhibit is displayed.