Japan has China to thank for its cherry blossoms, says China

The cherry blossom is native to the Himalayas, a Chinese official said recently, despite the flower's long association with the Land of the Rising Sun.

Shizuo Kambayashi/AP
A sparrow drinks the nectar of a cherry blossom in full bloom at Ueno park in Tokyo on Thursday.

A Chinese official has opened a new front in Beijing’s perennial war of words against historic rival Japan, this time over cherry blossoms.

China and Japan have been exchanging barbs recently over the ownership of a group of islets in the East China Sea. They have been engaged in a long running dispute over just how badly Japanese occupation forces treated the Chinese during World War II. Now an argument has erupted over who first cultivated cherry blossom trees.

In most of the world, cherry blossoms in the spring are synonymous with Japan. But the head of the China Cherry Industry Association, He Zongru, insisted this week that “many historical literary references prove that cherry blossoms originated in China.”

The flowering tree is native to China’s Himalayan region, and arrived in Japan only 1,100 years ago, Mr. He told a news conference, according to a report in the Southern Metropolis News.

Whatever the merits of He’s argument, his challenge to one of the key elements of Japan’s international (and self) image is unlikely to carry much weight. There are plenty of cherry blossom trees in Chinese parks, but the authorities here have never made as much of them as the Japanese do.

The Japan Weather Association, for example, annually publishes maps forecasting the height of the cherry blossom season in different parts of the country.

So emblematic of Japan are the trees that the Japanese government presented 3,000 of them to the United States in 1912; many were planted along the Tidal Basin in Washington and are now the focus of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

Tokyo gave another 2,000 of the trees to China in happier times, to celebrate the restoration of diplomatic ties in 1972. They still stand in a Beijing park, and attract thousands of visitors every spring.

Mr. He may think little of Japan’s claims to cherry blossoms, but he was even more dismissive of another rival claimant, South Korea. Newspapers there have been publishing findings by the Korean Forest Research Institute that cherry blossom trees originated on Jeju Island, off the south coast.

That is rubbish, according to He. “Simply put, the cherry blossom originated in China and flourished in Japan,” he said bluntly. “South Korea has got nothing to do with it.”

So there.

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