13 April 2021

International Peace Garden Cherry Tree Fiasco

Japanese Garden at SLC International Peace Gardens, ca. 1951. From UDSH

Importing cherry trees from Tokyo for planting at SLC’s International Peace Garden resulted in an international fiasco.

On July 11 1950, the Japanese garden of the International Peace Garden (IPG) was formally dedicated located in Jordan Park just off 900 West (1160 Dalton Ave SLC). It was the first garden section to be developed in the IPG and was developed in cooperation between SLC and the Japanese-American community of SLC.

Included in the dedication was a letter from the Japanese people in Tokyo promising a gift of 3,000 cherry trees to arrive in the fall.

It was largely through the efforts of Tokyo’s Mr. Tomatsu Murayama in which items from Japan were donated to the SLC garden. He secured the donation of the 17th-century stone lanterns that currently adorn the garden and he arranged shipment to SLC through General MacArthur’s office in Tokyo.

He also arranged for the boy scouts of Tokyo to raise money to buy the 3,000 cherry trees destined for SLC’s new IPG.

Murayama sent word to SLC that he was going to send the first shipment of 1,000 cherry trees by air as they would arrive in better condition than if by sea. Just as he had done with the stone lanterns, he shipped the trees payable on delivery assuming SLC would pay the freight as they had before.

The cherry trees arrived in Seattle and SLC was notified of the $1,482 freight bill (~$15K today) by Pan American Airlines. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) then notified SLC that new customs regulations prohibited the entry of the trees due to potential diseases they may introduce to domestic crops. The USDA stated that the Japanese government was informed of these new requirements 2 days before the shipment of the trees.

Some members of Congress got involved to see if a waiver could be obtained but ultimately the gifted cherry trees were burned at the Seattle city dump on Friday the 13th of April 1951.

As SLC never received the trees the City refused to pay the freight charge. Mr. Murayama then understood the bill to be his responsibility. Not having the 500,000 yen, he needed to mortgage his house in Tokyo to pay the bill. Even then, the SLC Commissioners refused to pay the bill.

Mayor Glade and the SLC Boy Scouts then formed a committee to raise the funds to pay the freight bill. Within a couple months enough money was raised to more than cover the bill. By that time Pan American Airlines had cancelled the debt.

There was enough money raised to purchase 1,000 new cherry trees for the IPG (from a domestic source) and to purchase camping equipment to send to the Boy Scouts in Tokyo. In March 1952 the Boy Scouts of Tokyo were presented with 275 camping tents from the Boy Scouts of SLC at a ceremony in Tokyo’s Hibiya Public Hall and with the participation of the US military

The cherry trees were planted in the Japanese garden and along the west bank of the Jordan River. However, all these trees died or were stolen. Replacement cherry trees were added to the Japanese garden in 1988.

A note: Murayama was born in Seattle but had gone to Japan and was drafted into the Japanese Army during WWII, as such he lost his American citizenship. After WWII he revived the Boy Scouts movement in Japan.  

Sources SL Telegram 1950-07-08; SL Trib 1951-03-20; Des News 1951-04-29, SL Telegram 1951-04-16; IPG NRHP form.

Japanese Garden at SLC International Peace Gardens, June 2019

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