Around the world, cherry blossoms are the first sign that spring has arrived. The small pink and white flowers are celebrated at festivals across the globe, and many people travel far and wide to snap pictures and picnic beneath the fragrant tree branches.
Hanami, the tradition of viewing and appreciating these beautiful blossoms, started in Japan, home of the famous Yoshino cherry trees. Luckily, we don’t have to go to Japan to get a glimpse of these gorgeous flowers. After Japan gifted the U.S. some Yoshino cherry trees in 1912, the flowers began to be celebrated in America, too. Here are seven places to see cherry blossoms in the U.S. this spring.
Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.
The planting of cherry trees in the U.S. began when Japan gifted the U.S. 3,000 cherry trees in 1912 as a display of friendship between the two nations. The idea was spearheaded by author and photographer Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, who often visited Japan, and former First Lady Helen Herron Taft. The women lobbied to have cherry trees planted along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., and the mayor of Tokyo at the time, Yukio Ozaki, made the generous donation of 3,020 saplings. Mrs. Taft and Ima Chinda, the Japanese Ambassador’s wife, planted two ceremonial Yoshino cherry trees on the banks of Tidal Basin, and over the course of several years, the remainder of the trees were planted around the Basin and East Potomac Park.
Fifty-two years later, the Japanese government made another donation of 3,800 cherry trees, which were planted around Washington Monument. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, held each spring in our nation’s capital, has celebrated the beauty of these pink and white blossoms since 1935.
Japanese culture is deeply intertwined with island life in Hawaii, and the presence of cherry trees is another reminder of the link between the 50th state and Japan. Wahiawa, located on Oahu in Honolulu County, has the largest grove of cherry trees in Hawaii. A single sapling brought from Okinawa in the 1950s is reportedly responsible for the propagation of the hundreds of other cherry trees that now grow in Wahiawa.
The cherry blossoms symbolize friendship and connection between Japan and the U.S., and they are especially meaningful to the large Japanese population that call Hawaii home. Wahiawa hosts a major cherry blossom festival during peak bloom in January and early February. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Wahiawa is the longest-running cultural celebration in Hawaii. Since 1953, Hawaiians have come together to celebrate Japanese culture and support young Japanese-Americans. The festival includes a beauty pageant, contests, exhibits, and a 90-minute trolley ride (known as the “Sakura Safari”) through Wahiawa to admire the cherry blossoms.
Oregon State Capitol, Salem, Oregon
The cherry blossoms in Salem breathe new life into Oregon State Capitol Park each spring. The park’s 150 Akebono cherry trees bloom every year in March, covering the capitol grounds in a sea of pink. In 2017, a Senate bill was passed to officially recognize the third Saturday in March as Cherry Blossom Day in Salem. The holiday celebrates the arrival of spring and the influence of Japanese culture in Oregon. On this day, people gather in the Capitol Mall to listen to traditional taiko drumming and koto music, as well as partake in hanami.
In Macon, Georgia, the International Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off each March in Carolyn Crayton Park. With roughly 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees, Macon is known as the “Cherry Blossom Capital of the World.” It all started in 1949, when local realtor William Fickling Sr. discovered a rare Yoshino cherry tree in his backyard. When he visited Washington, D.C. in 1952, he compared a clipping of his tree to the Tidal Basin cherry trees and realized they were a match. He then began propagating Yoshino cherry trees in Macon and shared them with his community.
In 1973, Fickling teamed up with Carolyn Crayton to spearhead a community beautification project, which included the planting of 500 trees along Wesleyan Woods, Guerry Drive, and Oxford Road (which are still the best places to view the cherry blossoms in the city today). To honor Fickling and his beautiful cherry trees, Crayton launched the first cherry blossom festival in Macon in 1982. Nearly 40 years later, the festival is now a month-long celebration of live music and other cherry blossom-themed events to rejoice in the flowers’ arrival.
University of Washington, Seattle
There are multiple places to appreciate the beauty of the blossoms in Seattle, but the University of Washington campus is arguably the best. The quad at UW is lined with 30 Yoshino cherry trees that were transplanted from the Washington Park Arboretum roughly 45 years ago. The quad becomes a popular spot for weddings, engagements, and graduation photos when the trees are at peak bloom in March and April.
Other places to view the blossoms on campus include San Juan Road on the South Campus and Red Square near Gerberding Hall. The best viewing time is typically the second or third week of March, but it depends on how cool the weather has been leading up to the bloom. You can keep track of regular updates on the flowers on the UW Cherry Blossoms Twitter page.
Branch Brook Park, Newark, New Jersey
Many people think of Washington, D.C. when they think of abundant cherry blossoms, but with more than 5,200 cherry trees, New Jersey actually boasts more blooming power than the country’s capital. Come spring, the state is bursting with pink and white flowers, and the best place to witness the mesmerizing display is at Newark’s Cherry Blossom Festival in Branch Brook Park. In addition to the spectacular sight of 5,200 blossoming cherry trees, festival-goers can also sign up for the 10k race or the Cherry Blossom Challenge Bike Race.
Fairmount Park, Philadelphia
After the first cherry trees were given to Washington, D.C., Japan started gifting cherry trees to other major cities across the U.S. Philadelphia was one of the lucky recipients in 1926. The beauty of the nearly 100-year-old sakura grove in Fairmount Park is celebrated each spring during the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival.
The main attraction of the festival is the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, a beautiful example of traditional Japanese architecture that was designed by architect Junzo Yoshimura in Japan and shipped to the U.S. in 1953. Festival events include practicing hanami by picnicking underneath the blossoms and walking under the canopy of pink petals, as well as cultural events, such as traditional drumming, martial arts demonstrations, and more.