One hundred years have passed since the first two cherry blossom trees were planted around Washington, D.C.'s Tidal Basin as a token of friendship between United States and the Japan. Despite the cold weather yesterday, I watched a historic event unfold as First Lady Michelle Obama participated in a commemorative tree planting to mark this centennial milestone.
A century ago, First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of Japan's Ambassador, Viscountess Chinda, planted the first two trees in Washington -- a gift of Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo -- and the beautiful blooms still honor all that they stand for. For so many years, these trees have stood as a symbol of the great friendship between the United States and Japan, and as a reminder of our shared hopes, dreams, and values.
For decades, people of all ages from all 50 states, Japan, and nations around the world have come to our Tidal Basin each spring to marvel at their beauty. And despite the harsh, cold, and billowing winds of winter, these cherry trees stand tall and continue to bloom year after year.
So, on this historic anniversary, we should not just admire the beauty of these trees, but also their resilience against harsh conditions. In doing so, we are prompted to recognize the tenacity of the Japanese people. Over the past year, we have all witnessed their courage, unity, and grace as they have come together to rebuild from last year's earthquake and tsunami. Despite Japan's rightful need to focus inward, Japan has remained our steadfast partner on important regional and global issues, strengthening our friendship and deepening our alliance.
Over the decades, more than 35,000 people have participated in exchange programs sponsored by our two governments, helping to broaden their horizons. Exchange programs such as our Fulbright and Mansfield programs and Japan's Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) have helped our people experience the wonders of each others' countries. Our efforts continue today through the TOMODACHI Initiative, our effort to support Japan's recovery through joint public-private initiatives that invest in Japan's future generation of leaders.
We want to continue to strengthen our bonds, not only to support our friends in Japan who have worked so hard and been so brave in rebuilding their lives, but to learn from each other as well. Our exchange programs will help Japanese and American youth today continue to build on our relationship into the next hundred years. It is up to them to carry on the traditions our countries hold dear, and keep the friendship between them flourishing, and in full bloom.