Arakawa cherry tree plan to make Tokyo area bloom

A project to restore the Arakawa Goshiki Zakura - famous cherry trees that lined the Arakawa river in Tokyo's Adachi Ward from the late 19th century until just after World War II - is set to be completed next fiscal year.

A row of more than 600 cherry trees planted along a four-kilometer stretch of the river is historically important through its deep connection to the cherry trees sent by Japan to Washington in the early 20th century. When fully restored, it will be one of the largest areas of cherry trees in Tokyo.

The ward government wants the area not only to be a place of historical merit, but also one that attracts tourists.

Cherry trees were originally planted in the Kohoku area in the western part of the ward in 1886, with more than 3,000 trees blooming over a stretch of about six kilometers. There were nearly 80 varieties, including double-flowered cherry trees, with blossoms in vivid red, white, yellow and other colors. According to the nonprofit organisation, Goshiki Sakura no Kai, the name Goshiki was coined by a newspaper at the time that described them as looking like "floating five-coloured clouds."

In 1912, saplings of these cherry trees were sent from Tokyo to Washington and planted there at the request of the wife of then US President William Taft. The cherry trees thrived and Potomac Park is famous for its cherry trees. However, most cherry trees in Adachi Ward were cut down for firewood after the end of World War II and all but disappeared.

A development project to restore the traditional cherry trees in the ward began in the 1990s. The ward government has started a full-fledged restoration effort since fiscal 2010, prior to the 100th anniversary of the gift to the United States in 2012.

The cherry trees now extend for 4.4 kilometers from Nishiaraibashi bridge to Toshi Nogyo Koen park, and 663 cherry trees, including 80 still to be planted in fiscal 2015, will appear in the area.

More than 20 varieties, such as Somei-Yoshino and Kanzan, were planted, including saplings of varieties brought back from Washington to their original home.

About 200 trees planted in the 1990s bloom every spring, but according to the ward government's greenery promotion section, "It will take about 20 years for the trees planted over the last few years to mature and reach their peak."

The ward government plans to collect contributions of ¥30,000 per tree in late June. Contributors will be rewarded with plates inscribed with their names and messages attached to the cherry trees.

When the Arakawa Goshiki Zakura are restored, it will be one of the largest rows of cherry trees in Tokyo, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry's river environment division.

"We hope the project will help revive Adachi as a famous place for cherry trees and will create a place where people can feel and experience history that has continued for over 100 years," a spokesperson for the ward section said.