National

Japan-U.K. ties get boost with gift of thousands of cherry trees for British schools and parks

by Grace Campbell London

Kyodo

Thousands of cherry trees will be planted across Britain to celebrate its relationship with Japan, with a high school becoming the first site to get one.

The initiative is being organized by Japanese individuals and companies in both countries as a symbol of friendship, and fundraising began in Japan almost a year ago.

They’re aiming to plant 4,000 cherry trees across Britain over the next two years.

The trees will be distributed to more than 70 parks and public sites, including several of London’s biggest parks and Conwy Castle in north Wales, which was recently twinned with Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture.

Following the initial fundraising, the project’s aims were expanded to include giving trees to schools with links to Japan. Since last autumn, more than 250 British schools have applied to receive one.

Among them was Katharine Lady Berkeley’s School, near Bristol in southwest England, which recently became the first to receive a donated Taihaku (great white cherry).

The school has run an annual exchange program to Japan since 1998, with around 20 students taking part every year. The planting was held March 18 to coincide with the yearly visit by students from Hikawa High School in Yamanashi Prefecture.

“The program provides tremendous opportunities for Japanese and English students to understand each other’s cultures and to find out how much we have in common,” said Andrew Harris, head teacher at the British school.

“The cherry tree is symbolic of Japan. I think it will be a symbol for our students, to remind them of their experiences on the exchange and learning about Japan,” he said.

Miho Obi, a teacher at Hikawa High School accompanying the exchange, said it was a “very memorable day” and she hopes the tree will be a sign of friendship.

Heidi Potter, chief executive of the Japan Society, which is helping to coordinate the venture, said organizers wanted to involve schools as a way of connecting with communities.

“I think it brings the trees very close to people. It’s not just the children but also the families and the local community that will be part of the tree at each school,” she said.

Keisaku Sano, head of the project and chairman of the Japan Association, said his hope is that young people will come to have a positive image of Japan after seeing the trees at school.

Sano said that due to Brexit, it is now more important than ever to emphasize Japan’s ongoing support for the country. “We want to show Japanese people are here, working and living together with British people,” he said. “We get on very well so we want this project to be a symbol of our friendship and support.”

The majority of the trees are due to be planted in 2020, with plans to hold a commemorative ceremony in the spring.

The initiative was welcomed by the prime ministers of both countries at a summit in 2017, when Shinzo Abe and Theresa May announced the bilateral Japan-U.K. Season of Culture.

The season will last throughout 2019 and 2020 and will feature events promoting cultural ties between Britain and Japan.