|Monday, Apr 14, 2008|
On Sunday, April 6th, National Mall & Memorial Parksâ Superintendent Peggy OâDell joined His Excellency Ryozo Kato, Ambassador of Japan, and other dignitaries at the annual stone lighting ceremony as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
OâDell noted that this year marked the 96th anniversary of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, celebrating the gift of the cherry trees and their symbol of enduring friendship between the United States and Japan. The blooming of the cherry trees has come to symbolize the natural beauty of our nation's capital city and draws millions of visitor each year. The festival ended yesterday.
Other speakers included Joe Witte, meteorologist for ABC7 News, Phil Mendelsohn, D.C. City Council Member, Lourdes Barrett, President, National Conference of States Societies, Diana Mayhew, President, National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc. and Sarah Walczewski, National Cherry Blossom Festival Goodwill Ambassador, and Alex Arvizu, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
The ceremony featured Sakura music by the Washington Toho Koto Society under the direction of Kyoko Okamoto, founder and president and the Cardinal Choir under the direction of Kimiko Shimada, director, as well as the International Cherry Blossom Princesses, representing 50 states and the District of Columbia. Mayu Harada, Embassy of Japan, Junior Cherry Blossom Princess, lit the Stone Lantern at the end of the ceremony.
As part of the festival, the National Park Service and the National Conference of State Societies have jointly sponsored the ceremonial lighting of the Japanese Stone Lantern on the Tidal Basin since 1954.
The Japanese Stone Lantern was carved 357 years ago and first lit in 1651 to honor the Third Shogun of the Tokugawa period. The lantern is lit only once each year during the Cherry Blossom Festival. It weighs two tons and stands eight-and-a-half feet tall