Blooms to Come

Japanese Bon Festival brings addition of cherry trees to Memphis

By Bill Dries

The Yoshino Cherry trees along Cherry Road in Audubon Park still have a fall and winter before they bloom again in April.

The 100th anniversary of the gift of cherry trees from Japan is celebrated at the Memphis Botanic Garden as three direct descendants of the Tidal Basin Trees are planted in the Japanese Gardens.  

(Photos: Lance Murphey)

When they do, there will be three new cherry trees blooming nearby in the Japanese Garden at the Memphis Botanic Garden. And there will be five new ones in the row of trees on Cherry Road as well as five more on Mud Island.

On the opening night of the garden’s annual Japanese Bon Festival, Friday, Sept. 7, leaders from the local business community turned a few shovels of dirt near one of the three cherry trees in the garden. They are direct descendants of the trees around Washington’s Tidal Basin.

The cherry trees in Washington are marking their 100th anniversary this year. The three trees that are descendants are the gift of the Japanese government. Japan’s acting consul general from Nashville, Kazuhiro Iryu, was in Memphis for the occasion.

The other 10 cherry trees are the gift of Chihiro Kon, who traveled to Memphis from her home in Hokkaido for the festival and also to visit her daughter, son-in-law and her granddaughter.

“She planted cherry blossoms every year for kindergarten children,” said Noriko Kudo, who served as a translator for her mother. “In Japan in April, cherry trees blossom. This (past) April we came here to Memphis. … She wanted to plant cherry trees for memory and to commemorate.”

Noriko Kudo and her husband Ken Kudo are pediatricians at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center who came to the city to study medicine. Their daughter, Kon’s granddaughter, is Risako Kudo. They live on Mud Island.

Seiko Igarashi was awarded the Foreign Minister’s Commendation Award during the opening of the Japanese Bon Festival. 

The Japanese Garden was developed in late 1965 with the red bridge over its pond that is the landmark most identified with the Botanic Garden. It is the second public garden of its kind in the city, which had an earlier Japanese Garden at Overton Park before the U.S. entry into World War II.

When the Botanic Garden’s Japanese Garden opened, the city was still 13 years from the opening of the Sharp Manufacturing Plant in Hickory Hill. It was the first investment by a Japanese corporation in the state of Tennessee.

Japanese companies and cultural organizations are closely involved in the events and demonstrations that are a large part of the annual festival.

“That is the goal of the event is to let the Memphis community know that all these organizations are here,” said Gena Harris of the Botanic Garden.

Harris works with the numerous Japanese cultural and business organizations in the city on the festival that began in the 1980s and has evolved since then.

“There are 17 different businesses that are part of the Japanese Traders and Manufacturers Association,” she said. “It’s the commerce that the Japanese have added to our community as well.”

Meanwhile, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is in Japan this week with an economic development delegation from the state.

Floating Lanterns sit by the red bridge in the Memphis Botanic Garden during the opening celebration of the Japanese Bon Festival. The 2012 festival celebrated the 100th anniversary of the gift of cherry trees from Japan as three direct descendants of the Tidal Basin Trees were planted. 

The specific event is the annual Southeast U.S./Japan Association meeting, which Memphis hosted in 1996.

Haslam notes the state’s relationship with Japanese companies has endured and grown for the last 30 years.

The oldest of those relationships is between Memphis and Sharp Manufacturing.

By the state’s count there are 133 Japanese companies in the state with more than $14 billion in capital investment by those companies. The companies employ 33,000 people.

In 2011, Tennessee exported $1.6 billion in goods to Japan.

The Japanese garden at the Botanic Garden was redesigned in 1989 with a renewed emphasis on the symbolic placement of rocks and other features in the garden. Local landscape architect Ritchie Smith worked with Japanese garden designer Koichi Kawana on the redesign, which also incorporated the slope of some hills and other features to create deliberate views from certain angles.