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With cherry festival, a bow to victims

Cherry trees have begun to blossom in Washington, D.C. Cherry trees have begun to blossom in Washington, D.C. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)
Associated Press / March 25, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The flowering trees that symbolize friendship between the United States and Japan are blooming for the 99th time in Washington following one of the world’s worst natural disasters.

Before the two-week National Cherry Blossom Festival opens tomorrow, organizers were to hold a fund-raising walk and vigil among the trees for victims of Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami. An estimated 18,000 people have been killed in the disaster.

“It’s important that we’re taking time to reflect,’’ said festival director Diana Mayhew. The celebration is a symbol of spring each year and now of the rebirth and rebuilding for Japan, she said.

“Our relationship with Japan is at the heart,’’ she said.

The tradition began with a gift of trees from Japan in 1912. Then-first lady Helen Taft and the wife of Japan’s ambassador planted the first two trees. About 100 of the original 3,000 trees are still growing, while thousands of others have been replaced or grown from the original trees’ genetic line.

Money raised at the vigil held last night will go to American Red Cross relief efforts. Festival sponsors Safeway and Macy’s each announced $100,000 donations to the fund.

Many of Washington’s 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees that circle the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial were beginning to bloom yesterday.