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Japanese students plant cherry tree at Portsmouth High School

Union Leader Correspondent

October 30. 2013 7:26PM
Students from Nichinan Junior/Senior High School in Japan ring tiny, silver bells as a plaque is unveiled in front of a new cherry tree planting at Portsmouth High School. The tree was a gift from Nichinan to the city as a living memorial to the Portsmouth Peace Treaty of 1905. (GRETYL MACALASTER PHOTO)

PORTSMOUTH — It was a chilly day for cherry blossoms, but students from Nichinan, Japan, did not let that stop them from celebrating the gift from their city to Portsmouth.

The cherry tree at Portsmouth High School is the latest planted in the city to commemorate the signing of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty in 1905, which ended the brutal Russo-Japanese War and earned President Theodore Roosevelt the Nobel Peace Prize.

This tree at Portsmouth High School is the first to have a memorial marker honoring its significance.

The city of Portsmouth has retained a sister city relationship with Nichinan for many years that was recently reinvigorated by a high school exchange program between the two cities.

On Wednesday, 19 students from Nichinan gathered in back of Portsmouth High School for the ceremony and sang "Sakura" as a message of inspiration.

The sapling is cut from the same trees planted 101 years ago in Washington, D.C. as a gift to the United States from Japan in honor of the citizen diplomacy in Portsmouth that led to the signing of the treaty.

In 2012, the Japanese government decided to donate cherry trees from cuttings of the original Washington, D.C. trees to select cities around the country. Portsmouth is one of just three cities in New England selected.

In May 2012, trees were planted at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where the treaty was signed, at Strawbery Banke Museum, at the John Paul Jones House and at the Wentworth by the Sea hotel, which also played a role in the negotiations.

"We are pleased that the government of Japan recognizes that history by putting Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the exclusive list of places receiving the commemorative trees," said Charles B. Doleac, president of the Japan-America Society of New Hampshire. "The descendants of these Potomac trees constitute part of the living treaty history."

He said planting the trees at key treaty sites throughout Portsmouth recognizes the many different people and institutions who supported the treaty negotiations, including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

There are also cherry trees planted at the city's elementary schools and along the South Mill Pond near City Hall.

The official presentation of the latest tree was made by Akira Muto, consulate general of Japan in Boston.

Portsmouth High School Principal Jeff Collins and Nichinan Gakuen Junior/Senior High School Principal Shougo Fujiwara unveiled the memorial plaque.

Muto has attended previous peace treaty events and forums in Portsmouth and said he is happy to see the tradition and spirit of the treaty being passed from generation to generation.

Each of the Japanese students was given a tiny silver bell that Doleac asked them to ring each year on Sept. 5 at 3:47 p.m., the time bells rang out all over Portsmouth in 1905 to signal the signing of the treaty.

Portsmouth Mayor Eric Spear said the planting is illustrative of both the city's commitment to its urban landscape and to the city's heritage and success in utilizing citizen diplomacy to accomplish important goals.

High schools History Portsmouth Photo Feature

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