In 1912, the Japanese government made a gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the United States.
For nearly a quarter of a century, Eliza Scidmore, the wife of a diplomat who had visited Japan in 1885, had been trying to import this tree to beautify the capitol by planting cherry trees on the swampy land around the Potomac River. Her many attempts failed until she enlisted the wife of President Taft. Together, they were able to garner public support and the attention of the Japanese embassy, who eventually made the gift of 3,000 cherry tree saplings. Many of the trees these women planted are still standing today.
In fact, the Japanese had sent a batch of 2,000 trees in 1910, but when they arrived they were found to be diseased and full of insects so they had to be incinerated. This unfortunate incident led to the creation of our modern plant quarantine laws. Today, these laws prevent the spread of thousands of diseases and insects that could harm our environment.
The gift of cherry trees led to many other exchanges of culture between the two nations. For example, the National Cherry Blossom Festival often presents Japanese art and music.
Perhaps the most significant recent exchange came in 2012 when the State Department sent 3,000 flowering dogwood saplings to Japan to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of their gift to us. These dogwoods went to a few different sites in Japan.
Some ended up in a memorial garden planted at Fukushima, the site of the nuclear meltdown earlier that year.