100th Anniversary of Cherry Trees in Washington Echoes Portsmouth Peace Treaty

Cherry trees that were given to Portsmouth NH by Japanese Sister City, Nichinan
in 1993 line the tidal pool next to City Hall.

The celebration in Washington DC (Mar 23 - Apr 27, 2012) of the 100th anniversary of the 1912 gift of cherry trees as a symbol of the friendship between Japan and the US carries special meaning for Portsmouth, New Hampshire as the site of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty negotiations of 1905.

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.    

“We have learned from our initial research that Japan offered a gift of cherry trees in 1909 and that the Mayor of Tokyo fulfilled that offer with the intent of commemorating American help with the 1905 negotiations,” said Charles B. Doleac, partner with Boynton, Waldron, Doleac, Woodman & Scott in Portsmouth and president of the Japan-America Society of New Hampshire. “We are very pleased that the Government of Japan is recognizing that history by putting New Hampshire on the exclusive list of places receiving the commemorative trees this year. What’s important to Portsmouth and New Hampshire is that the descendants of these Potomac trees are not just part of the living Treaty history.

"The gift of many cherry trees, to be located at key treaty sites throughout the city, recognizes the many different people who supported the treaty negotiations including the Navy, State, City and all the New Hampshire citizens involved in citizen diplomacy. We have been working to identify an appropriate way to memorialize the importance of citizen diplomacy that we commemorate with Portsmouth Peace Treaty Day (September 5th) statewide. Planting numerous cherry trees both here in Portsmouth and, eventually across the state, will serve as a living memorial to the broad tradition of citizen diplomacy practiced in New Hampshire.”

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 cherry trees at Portsmouth City Hall are also directly connected to the Treaty.  As the City of Portsmouth began exploring its history and expanding its knowledge of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty, it forged a Sister City relationship with Nichinan, Japan – the home and burial site of Baron Jutaro Komura, the chief Japanese plenipotentiary in Portsmouth at the peace conference. In 1985 and in 1993-94, Nichinan funded the purchase of the cherry trees which were planted -- and still flourish -- around the tidal basin of South Mill Pond, next to City Hall. 

On May 11, 2012, the Japan-America Society of New Hampshire hosted Consul General Takeshi Hikihara of the Consulate General of Japan in Boston with tree planting ceremonies. Three sites were selected for commemorative trees:

  • Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where the Treaty was signed on September 5, 1905 

  • Strawbery Banke Museum, where the Shapiro House (home to one of the founders of Temple Israel in 1905), symbolic of the involvement of the local community and citizen diplomacy

  • Wentworth By the Sea Hotel, where the Japanese delegation stayed in 1905 and where several pivotal events of the Treaty summer and subsequent commemorations took place.

  • Other tree locations will include the John Paul Jones House Museum where the Japan Society’s Portsmouth Peace Treaty exhibit is displayed.  

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