This year, Cherry Blossom Festival organizers have partnered with charities to create giving opportunities for participants interested in offering support to disaster victims in Japan.
Before the two-week National Cherry Blossom Festival opens Saturday, organizers held a fundraising walk and vigil Thursday evening among the trees for victims of Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami. An estimated 18,000 people have been killed in the disaster.
The flowering trees that symbolize friendship between the United States and Japan are blooming for the 99th time in Washington in the wake of one of the world’s worst natural disasters.
Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki told the crowd that his country needs help.
“Everything started on what I call 3/11 — earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incident — and we are still struggling,” he said. “This is a very tough fight, but the consolation is people around the world are trying to be with us.” Fujisaki said the U.S. sent one of the first rescue teams and military support.
“Really, we need your assistance, and you’re giving that to us,” he said. After a gathering and moment of silence, the ambassador joined a crowd in walking to the cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin, holding glow sticks. Donation bins lined the sidewalk to benefit American Red Cross relief efforts.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia in Congress, said the cherry blossoms will be a reminder of Japan’s resiliency. She said the Washington festival also will rally support.
“This year, the cherry blossoms will remind the world to stand for Japan,” Norton said. “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. Fujisaki told The Associated Press he is grateful for such support from U.S. residents, though he declined to ask for further donations. It’s too soon to know how Japan will pay to rebuild the country as the government is still focused on search and rescue, basic human needs and its nuclear reactors, he said.
“I am very grateful that American people are voluntarily extending their hands,” Fujisaki said. “This is really an impressive show of goodwill.”