One of the first signs of spring is when the cherry trees bloom at the University of Washington. The iconic trees on the quad have become a symbol of the University’s ties to Japan. Yesterday, the University celebrated a gift from Japan — 18 new cherry trees to add to the campus.
Professor Tetsuden Kashima led the effort to bring the trees to campus. The trees are Yoshino cherries, with origins in Japan.
The new cherry trees were planted this spring near Drumheller Fountain and along Mary Gates and Johnson Halls.
Kashima said it will be a joy to watch a new group of cherry trees blossoming every year on campus. The blooms are spectacular, but short-lived, a visual reminder of how life is both precious and precarious.
He imagines a time when the trees are fully grown and will greet people coming out of the new light rail station as they walk into campus. Together with the existing trees on the quad, he said it’s going to be beautiful.
The older ones in the quad were first planted around 1939. If the old trees could talk, they would tell a sad chapter of the university’s history. Just three years after they were planted, more than 400 Japanese-American students were sent to internment camps.
There will be two granite plaques near the new trees. One of them will acknowledge the Japanese and Japanese-American students who went to school here, including those whose education was disrupted and never completed.
“That is a reminder of what can happen,” Kashima said. “And so we have to say these kinds of acts which are discriminatory or racial or in some way, not in keeping with the American spirit, should not occur again.”
In 2008 the Board of Regents voted to award honorary degrees to those students. “It was their way of saying we are sorry, we’re trying to make some fence-mending,” Kashima said, “but more important, we’re making you Huskies in a real way.”