Celebrating a Friendship, With Cherry Trees

On Thursday six new Yoshino cherry trees were planted in the grass beside the Littauer Building in celebration of Harvard’s long relationship with Japan.

The Harvard Commemorative Cherry Tree Planting Initiative, which organized and raised money for the new Harvard Sakura Garden, is a team made up of scholars at the Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies, the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and Harvard’s Asia Center, along with students and professors from across the University.

“It is my sincere hope that the Harvard Sakura Garden will be a symbol of friendship between the United States and Japan,” said Hideshi Futori, a research associate at the Weatherhead Center’s U.S.-Japan Program, to the group of students, academics, and families with small children surrounding him.

“And that the garden will be the most popular sightseeing spot at Harvard—except, of course, the statue of John Harvard,” added Futori, who was a lead organizer of the initiative.

In 27 days, the initiative was able to raise over twice its goal of $1,800 to purchase the trees. The fundraising totaled more than $4,500, collected from students, researchers, professors, and community members.

The extra funds will be donated to Harvard for Japan’s Sanriku Project, a multidisciplinary collaborative devoted to assisting in Japan’s recovery efforts following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the country last March.

Ryoji Watanabe, a graduate of the Kennedy School who is involved with the Sanriku Project, cited American aid in the Japanese recovery process could also be commemorated with the planting of the trees.

The timing is also significant because 2012 marks the centennial anniversary of one of the first plantings of Japanese cherry trees in the U.S.

To express appreciation for the U.S.’s partnership in the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1912, Japan offered 3,020 cherry trees from Tokyo, to be planted along the Potomac River. The anniversary has been celebrated with cherry tree-plantings and festivals across the country. Cherry blossoms, or “sakura” in Japanese, are Japan’s national flower.

Takeshi Hikihara, the Consul General of Japan in Boston, said in his speech that this was the nineteenth tree-planting ceremony he had attended this year. “I feel like I’m not working for the Japanese Government, but for the City of Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department,” he joked.

As Futori explained during Harvard’s ceremony, Harvard’s connections to Japan reach back over the last century, when Japanese Foreign Minister Jutaro Komura attended Harvard and became one of the first Japanese students to study abroad. Together, he and President Theodore Roosevelt helped negotiate the treaty.

“There is no other academic institution [in America] that has stronger links to Japan,” said Business School professor Hirotaka Takeuchi, who served as an adviser to the initiative, after the event. “We have 130 years of history.”

According to Susan J. Pharr, a professor of Japanese politics and Director of the Program on U.S.-Japan relations, the location of the trees has a special significance because they are located near the path that leads to the Law School, the first school at Harvard to accept a student from Japan in 1872.

At the end of the ceremony, several of the event organizers, advisers, and donors—including a one-year-old, support by his parents—took turn using shovels to plant the trees.

“There’s been a good relationship for 100 years, and we’ve planted [these trees] for the next 100,” Futori said.

—Staff writer Delphine Rodrik can be reached at

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:


Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that community members raised more than $45,000 to plant six cherry trees. In fact, they raised more than $4,500.


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