Campus cherry trees signify Japanese-U.S. ties

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Since 2001, a sure sign of spring on campus has been the flowering of the cherry trees on Alumni Mall, between Harshman and Kreischer quadrangles at the corner of Alumni Drive and Mercer Road. The University community has been enjoying the delicate blossoms’ annual display thanks to the generosity of alumni and friends in Japan, and the long-ago friendship between then-President William Howard Taft of Ohio and the government of Japan.

Three of BGSU’s trees are direct descendants of the famous Washington, D.C., cherry trees, a thank you to President Taft for his support during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. In 1912, first lady Helen Taft accepted a gift of cherry blossom trees from Japan as a token of friendship.

Fast forward to 2001, when the University dedicated its new Alumni Mall, where more than four-dozen cherry blossom trees, including three trees grown from cuttings of those original Yoshino cherry trees, are planted. The project was a collaborative effort between BGSU alumni in Japan and the BGSU Alumni Board of Trustees to beautify the east portion of campus.

The cuttings were donated to the University by the National Parks Service and U.S. National Arboretum and were nurtured at the Schedel Arboretum and Gardens in Elmore, Ohio. BGSU is the only institution in the country to be given the original cuttings.

The other 50 Yoshino cherry blossom trees were donated by BGSU alumni residing in Japan.

An important connection between BGSU and the Japanese alumni is Akiko Kawano Jones, director of the Asian Studies Program and a native of Kobe, Japan. She keeps in close contact with the many University alumni in Japan and current exchange students. BGSU has exchange programs with Saitama University north of Tokyo, with Nanzan University in Nagoya and with Hiroshima Jogakuin. 

In 2000, she was chosen to be part of then-Governor Bob Taft’s first trade mission. She and about 50 other delegates from Ohio traveled to Japan, and Jones represented the University and the city on the trip. She assisted with language and cultural interpretation between the Ohio delegation and representatives of businesses and universities in Japan and met with BGSU alumni, who offered to provide the cherry trees.

BGSU will celebrate the Ohanami, or Cherry Blossom Festival, again this year, from 6-8:30 p.m. April 21 in 101 Olscamp Hall. Guests can try Japanese calligraphy, origami and traditional games, and enjoy performances of taiko drums, koto music and martial arts, along with Japanese refreshments.

The festival is sponsored by the BGSU Japanese Club with support from the Asian Studies Program, the Alumni Association and the Center for Multicultural and Academic Initiatives. For more information, contact Jones at 372-7136 or jakiko@bgsu.edu.

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(Posted March 28, 2012 )