WASHINGTON (WUSA) ---The rays of the sun streaked through the wall-to-wall glass windows.Onthis spring-like warmJanuary afternoon,guests gathered at the Japanese Ambassador's residence to celebrate the Cherry Blossom.

The Ambassador of Japanhosted a kick-off celebrationfor the upcoming CentennialCherry Blossom Festival.

The 2012 year marks the 100th year when Cherry Blossom trees were given as a gift from Japan to President Taft and his wife, First Lady Helen Taft.

Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki said he hoped the weather will be just as warm and inviting for the Cherry Blossoms to bloom full-peak this coming spring's festival.

From March 20 - April 27, 2012,the nation's capital willwelcome thousandswhowalk by the tidal basinadorned with Cherry Blossom trees.

Ambassador Fujisaki and his wife greeted a mix ofWashingtonians, diplomats and Japanese dignitaries including Ambassador Hiroyasu Ando, President of the Japan Foundation.

The Centennial celebration has been in the planning for two years, according to Diana Mayhew, the President of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Thecherry blossomtrees have become a symbol of friendship and diplomacy between the U.S. and Japan.

The friendship hassolidified further after theGreat East Japan Earthquake last year, according to Ann Stock, the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy at the U.S. State Department.

After the9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunamirocked Japan, the U.S. providedweather and nuclear expertise, military logistical help, andpersonnel help for the citizens of Japan.

The 2011 U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen,Allison Speaker, raised a toast at the gathering, saying she visited Japan and spent time in Sendai withearthquake victims.

After the toast, guests enjoyed traditional Japanese fare includingnoodles, sushi, and Cherry Blossom-shaped rice cake dessert.

Written, Reported by: Elizabeth Jia

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