Tidewater Traveler - April 2010


Japanese Cherry Trees
George W. Sellers


“Where’s the clickety-clack-clickety-clack?” asks my seat partner as our high-speed bullet train glides effortlessly out of the station bound for Fukuoka, Japan, and the second phase of the travel conference in which I am participating this week. Several thousand people from around the world have gathered, as they do annually, to study and promote tourism to Asia and the Pacific Rim. It is my privilege to be here representing Maryland-area travel planners and suppliers.
The locals call this train to Fukuoka a Nozomi train. Regardless of what it is called, the train and its rail path represent incredible feats of engineering accomplishment. I am told we will cover a distance of 890 kilometers in just less than 5 hours. (Remember - from a recent Tidewater Traveler article we learned to quickly convert from kilometers to miles by dropping the last digit and multiplying what is left by 6. So, to get an approximation of the distance in miles – drop the zero, and 6 times 89 equals 534 miles). So, that averages over 100 miles per hour.
Smooth, quiet, fast – those are the only words needed to describe this train. Boarding was like stepping from the concrete platform into the long, shiny, blue, slender shaft of a giant arrow, an arrow poised to be shot from a bow.
As the train takes curves, the cars automatically tilt to minimize the G-forces on the passengers. The rail car body seems to float on the rolling chassis in a manner so that changes in direction are hardly noticed by the riders. Trees, bushes, poles and fences flash past the window. I am just fascinated by this experience! But looking around the compartment, so many people are reading or napping and just taking this excursion for granted – like they do it every day. “Oh!” I realize. Some of them probably do – do this every day.
Nearing Fukuoka, the subject of my fascination for the last few hours begins to slow to a more courteous speed - probably down to something in the 70-miles-per-hour range. I begin to see short trees that appear to be covered with pinkish white snowballs. It is like we have rolled into a spectacular oil painting. Blossoming trees are everywhere.
Here is where I have to admit that I did not do my travel homework thoroughly before departing on this junket to Japan. Here is where I embarrass myself by saying, “Those look just like the Japanese cherry trees that we have back home in Washington, D.C.” My seatmate is silent for few moments and finally says, “George, is it possible that you were born blonde?”
And then it hit me! Japanese cherry trees! Duhhh! The Washington, D.C., cherry trees were a gift from Japan. In 1912, Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo gave 3,000 cherry trees to the District of Columbia to “honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and celebrate the continued close relationship between the two cultures.” And then in 1965, the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, on behalf of the people of the United States, accepted 3,800 more cherry trees from the people of Japan, making the area known as the Tidal Basin one of the most famous areas in the world to view the spring spectacle of cherry blossoms.
It is interesting to note that there have been reciprocal presentations from the USA to Japan. In 1915, several thousand flowering dogwoods were sent from the American people to Japan. And, on several occasions, cuttings from the Washington trees were sent to Japan to replace trees damaged by flood and storms.
Had I done my travel homework, I would have known that Fukuoka, Japan, is one of the best locations in Japan (if not the world) to view blossoming Japanese cherry trees. And I would have known that my trip to Fukuoka was timed perfectly to appreciate the fullness of the floral display. Let’s just say that I was focused on preparing for the business aspects of the trip and had not considered the tourism angle. But what a nice surprise!
As I worked and toured in Fukuoka for the next few days, the cherry blossom display was impressive. Just like in Washington, tens of thousands of people travel to Fukuoka annually just to see the brilliant exhibition. Viewing rows and rows of the short trees laden with lavish pinkish white poms reminded me so much of the display I have seen in Washington many times. And now each time I make a springtime trip to D.C., I am reminded of the incredible scenes I saw in Fukuoka.
Driving throughout the Tidal Basin by car or bus is a common way to view the spectacle, but walking through the area is a very relaxing method for experiencing nature’s demonstration of beauty. Sometimes wind and other weather conditions hinder the human attempt to schedule viewing the blossoms at the very peak of their performance. A few years ago I was just a little late for the show. Spring winds had stripped most of the petals from their branches. The scene was still incredible because it looked like pink snow had covered the young spring grass everywhere.
One of the most spectacular ways to see the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms is from the Potomac River. I think my favorite view is from the Odyssey, a sleek, glass-topped, dinner-cruiser that motors upriver, past the Tidal Basin and popular monuments. during dinner, the boat passes under several bridges on the Potomac to reach a turn-around point opposite the Watergate building just past the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It is a slow, lazy afternoon (or evening) of fine dining and relaxing, with the best views of our nation’s capital as entertainment.
This year (2010), the official dates for the Washington, D.C., Cherry Blossom Festival are March 27 through April 11. That does not mean the blossoms will be in full array during those dates. Like meteorologists who study to predict hurricane behavior, each year teams of scientists strive to understand the elements that determine when the show will begin and how long it will last. Though they are often reasonably accurate with their predictions, the truth is that not even the trees know for sure when the Divine Brush will stroke spring colors onto their branches.
Stayed tuned. Since the first gift of trees was made in 1912, it means that just two years from now we can probably expect a big centennial celebration of the event. Because we live so close, it is not common to think of going to D.C. for a few days, staying in a downtown hotel, in a good walk-around area accessible to most of the national monuments, museums and the cherry trees. But you can!
May all your travels be happy and safe!

George Sellers is a Certified Travel Counselor and Accredited Cruise Counselor who operates the popular travel website and travel planning service www.SellersTravel.com. Comments or suggestions about Tidewater Traveler articles may be directed to George’s FaceBook Business Page: George@SellersTravel.com.