US-Japan alliance celebrated at White House with cherry blossom pledge, state dinner for Kishida

Tokyo will send Washington 250 new cherry blossom trees by 2026, the White House announced on Wednesday, as the United States and Japan enter a new season of their geopolitical alliance against China in the Indo-Pacific.

“The gift is meant to mark the 250th anniversary of the US in 2026,” President Joe Biden said at the official arrival ceremony to welcome Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is on a five-day official visit to the country.

President Joe Biden, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shake hands after a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Wednesday. Photo: AP

Biden added that the trees would be planted at the Tidal Basin, a popular spot in the city famous for the nearly 3,000 cherry blossoms donated by Japan in 1912. In recent months, some 100 of the trees were uprooted because of construction work.

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“Like our friendship, these trees are timeless, inspiring and thriving,” Biden said, adding that he and Kishida had strolled across the lawn and visited the three Japanese cherry trees at the White House on Tuesday night.

Speaking after Biden, Kishida described the centuries-old trees that adorn Washington as a “symbol of the friendship between Japan and the United States”.

The national flower of Japan also dominated the lavish state dinner hosted by the Bidens for Kishida and his wife on Wednesday evening.

Cherry blossom trees near the Capitol in Washington. Photo: Ji Siqi

At a media preview of the state dinner on Tuesday, first lady Jill Biden said a big section of the White House would feature an “illusion garden” to celebrate a “flourishing friendship”, with sweet pea, roses, peonies, hydrangeas and cherry blossom branches projected with an image of a river containing koi – a fish symbolising friendship, peace, luck and perseverance in Japanese culture.

The menu paired American and Japanese flavours, including house-cured salmon with avocados, grapefruit, watermelon radish, cucumber and shiso leaf fritters for a colourful first course.

The main course included dry-aged rib-eye steak, shishito pepper butter and a fricassee of fava beans and morel. The dinner concluded with a salted caramel pistachio cake, matcha ganache and cherry ice cream with a raspberry drizzle.

US President Joe Biden, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are pictured in the East Room of the White House. Photo: Bloomberg

Among the nearly 230 guests were popular J-Pop duo Yoasobi, Hollywood icon Robert De Niro, Olympic champion figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft’s Brad Smith, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain.

In 2023, Yoasobi ranked No 7 on the US Billboard Global 200 - the highest ever achieved by Japanese artists in the country.

The guests dined on dinnerware from the George W Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson collections as the American singer-songwriter Paul Simon performed a “selection of his iconic songs”, according to the White House.

The menu for the state dinner honouring Kishida. Photo: Khushboo Razdan

On Thursday, the Kishidas will travel to North Carolina, and on Friday will visit a Toyota plant, dine on “whole hog” barbecue with Governor Roy Cooper and hear a concert of bluegrass music, according to the governor’s office.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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