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Hanami Swiss-Japanese friendship continues to blossom

man photographing trees

Popular with photographers: the juxtaposition of cherry blossoms and Bern’s Old Town

(© Keystone / Anthony Anex)

Bern has 36 new cherry trees thanks to the deep roots of a Japanese friendship.

This spring, Japan’s Nara prefecture sponsored the planting near the Swiss capital’s Rose Gardenexternal link. The gesture is reminiscent of a donation over 40 years ago – from a Japanese farmer who held Switzerland in high regard.

In the 1960s, dairy farmer and beekeeper Yoshiyuki Urata (1910-1987) travelled to Switzerland after befriending a Swiss priest at the Kyoto International Student House, run by the Swiss East Asia Missionexternal link. Urata spent time on a farm in canton Zurich and studied agriculture in St Gallen. He was fascinated by the punctuality and work ethic of the Swiss farmers – especially when it came to the 10-to-14-hour work days.

Urata also made an impression on the Swiss people he met, and managed to secure CHF30,000 ($30,059) per year – for 20 years – to help fund the agricultural school he created back home in Japan. Years later, Urata expressed his appreciation by sending 100 Somei Yoshino trees to Bern.

The dedication at the Rose Garden was made on April 10, 1975; this is the commemorative plaque:

memorial plaque


Shortly afterwards, Urata came to Bern. In this postcard, he told the local authorities, “I would like to visit the place where the trees were planted and give some advice.”

old postcard
(City of Bern Department of Civil Engineering, Transport and Parks)

Today, those trees are slowly getting old and beginning to flower less – as noticed by the governor of Nara when he visited Bern in 2016. Because Nara and Bern have had a friendship agreement since 2015, the Japanese prefecture decided it would like to cover the cost of three dozen seedlings. These were planted last monthexternal link and will delight visitors for years to come.

cherry blossoms

Adapted by Susan Misicka

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