Sakura celebration: Students plant ‘symbol of Japan’ on Leicester campus

Members of Leicester’s Japanese student community have planted a series of cherry blossom trees in celebration of the UK’s friendship with Japan.

Seven Japanese students were joined by President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nishan Canagarajah, on Monday lunchtime to plant five Sakura trees on the University of Leicester campus.

Sakura – cherry blossom trees – are considered the national flower of Japan. As part of a nationwide campaign to celebrate 150 years of strong relationship between the two countries, the Sakura Cherry Tree Project provided five Prunus ‘Beni-yutaka’ trees to take pride of place along University Road, with with three Prunus ‘Tai Haku’ planted within the University of Leicester Botanic Garden and one Prunus ‘Somei Yoshino’ planted outside the Fielding Johnson Building.

Ayaka Umetani, studying for an MA in Museum Studies, said: “We are very happy to be celebrating the connection between Japan and the UK with the planting of these cherry blossom trees. They really remind me of my home.

“They are deeply connected with Japanese sentiment, and in spring the flowers of the cherry blossom tree symbolise the farewell to old things, and an encounter with new life. In Japan, the academic year starts in April and so cherry blossom is very much associated with new life.”

Students also sowed native wildflower seeds around the base of each Sakura tree.

The tree planting was lent special significance in the University’s Centenary year, as Leicester’s first international student, Tamotsu Shishikura, came to the University College from Tokyo to study English between 1922 and 1924.

Iori Yamamoto is an exchange student from Waseda University in Tokyo, studying Psychology and Spanish. Speaking about Shishikura-san’s time in Leicester, he added: “I really feel like I’m following in their footsteps. It is such an honour to know that the first international student was Japanese and now, all these years later, I am here as a Japanese exchange student.

“It means a lot to know that we have planted this symbol of Japan here in Leicester.”

Adam Tester, Gardens and Grounds Manger at the University of Leicester, said: “We are hugely grateful to the Sakura Cherry Tree Project, Japanese Embassy and Oadby and Wigston Borough Council for their support in facilitating this project.

“We hope that these Sakura on both University Road and at the Botanic Garden in Oadby will be enjoyed by members of the community for many years to come.”