Alnwick has welcomed the Japanese Ambassador to the town today (Friday) and he came bearing gifts - more than 100 cherry trees.
His Excellency Koji Tsuruoka and his wife visited The Alnwick Garden, where they attended the 10th annual Cherry Blossom Dedication Ceremony, hosted by the Duchess of Northumberland.
Each of the 326 Tai Haku cherry trees in The Cherry Orchard is dedicated to someone special by those who were invited to this evening's event. The ceremony, which ends with lanterns floating on the lake, is eagerly anticipated and marks a special opportunity for people to visit their trees and reflect on their loved ones.
The visit also ties in with a project to plant thousands of cherry trees, donated by Japanese businesses, across the UK. In September 2017, Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, and her Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe announced in Tokyo that the years 2019 and 2020 would mark the Japan-UK Season of Culture to celebrate the friendship of the two countries.
Its aim was to provide an opportunity for people in both countries to explore each other’s cultures and technologies between the Rugby World Cup in September 2019 in Japan and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
"Gardening, plants and nature - these are all very important aspects for Japan and I think we do share in common with the British people the love for nature and gardens," His Excellency told the Gazette. "So we thought that when we celebrated the season of culture over the years 2019 and 2020, it is so appropriate that the Japanese cherries be brought in a massive way to the United Kingdom. Hopefully, it will create a corridor of cherries and when they bloom, it will really shine under the sun of Great Britain."
The Duchess was delighted to host Mr Tsuruoka and spoke of her inspiration for the Cherry Orchard at The Alnwick Garden.
She said: "It is a huge honour to have His Excellency with us tonight because we feel that, in Alnwick, we are doing it in our own way, but we couldn't begin to do it as well as it has been done for centuries in Japan. We do it in a way that's relevant to this area and I'm excited by his initiative of creating a cherry trail throughout the United Kingdom and Alnwick is going to be a major beneficiary, with 150 cherry trees for the town, which are going to be planted around the Tenantry Column. That is going to be great for Anglo-Japanese relations."
Garden director Mark Brassell was equally excited by the special relationship that is being built. He said: “We are thrilled to have the Ambassador here to attend the dedication ceremony and also to celebrate the special friendship between Japan and the UK - and Alnwick is very much on their radar.”
And he described the raising of the Japanese flag on the new flagpole in Alnwick’s Column Field by the town council today as ‘a really nice gesture’ to honour the Ambassador’s visit.
The dedication event was also attended by Mr Iwao Shimizu, Counsellor for Transport and Tourism at the Embassy of Japan, along with more than 300 supporters of The Alnwick Garden Trust.
The Cherry Orchard, which was the vision of the Duchess of Northumberland, was planted in 2008 and the first dedication ceremony was held the following year.