1,000 and Counting: Celebrating Collaboration and Friendship between Japan and the Dayton Region

16 Mar 2021

Alex Hara, Dayton resident, watched as a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami decimated the Tohoku region of Japan on March 11, 2011. Hara was born in Japan and was immediately compelled to give back.

“I started a Japan Earthquake Relief Fund and the Dayton Daily News shared my efforts,” said Hara. “In 90 days, I collected $33,000 from this community alone.”

Hara was inspired by the generosity of the Dayton community. He was further motivated by the United States Armed Forces disaster relief mission known as Operation Tomodachi, which means “friends” in Japanese, that he created Operation 1,000 Cherry Tree Project. The goal was to plant 1,000 cherry trees in and around Montgomery County to celebrate the friendship of the two nations.

“The cherry blossom means so much to Japan and represents the heart of Japanese people,” said Hara. “There is no better way to express our gratitude than with a cherry blossom.”

Former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, who serves as the project’s honorary chairman, understands the significance of this gesture. His great-grandfather and 27th President, William H. Taft, accepted Japan’s gift of 3,000 cherry trees on behalf of the United States citizens in 1912.

The organization reached its goal of 1,000 cherry trees in October 2017. Cherry trees have been planted at locations such as the Dayton Art Institute, along Springfield Street and at the I-70/75 interchange. But Alex Hara isn’t done yet — the name has since changed to Operation 2,000 Cherry Tree Project.

“As we move the goal post to 2,000 cherry trees, our mission is to plant more clusters at limited locations so we can tell residents exactly where they can go to enjoy the cherry blossoms,” said Hara. 

The opportunity to plant additional cherry trees throughout Montgomery County arrives at a commemorative moment — the 10th anniversary of this natural disaster took place on March 11, 2021.

Montgomery County is partnering with Operation 2,000 Cherry Tree Project and hosted a media event on the 10th anniversary of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami at Dayton Art Institute. The first of many trees were planted at Dayton Art Institute, Carillon Historical Park, Wright Brothers Memorial Park and the City of Fairborn, and more than 300 cherry trees will be planted throughout these four community staples this year. 

For Hara, these tree plantings continue to be more than placing a seed in the ground. Rather, they’re a lasting symbol of friendship.

“The message I want to deliver and reinforce is the friendship between our two nations,” shares Hara. “On this 10th anniversary, the Japanese people don’t forget what the United States has done for them — the gratitude is still there.”

To learn more about Operation 2,000 Cherry Tree Project, visit its website.