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Yousuf Karsh, master photographer of the 20th century

Yukio Ozaki’s Cherry Blossoms

Yukio Ozaki and daughter, 1950

Each year at this time, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. commemorates the 1912 gift to the city of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo.

As a democrat, a pacifist, and an internationalist, (Ozaki) represented the earliest stirrings of democracy in his country and, though often jailed, sometimes exiled, and constantly threatened with assassination, he never wavered for a moment in his faith, or in his love for America which, as he said, stood for everything he had sought in his own country.

It was with a sense of reverence, therefore, that I approached the old man – he was in his nineties at the time, in 1950, and had just concluded a tour of the United States. The Dewitt Wallaces, of Reader’s Digest, had asked me to photograph him and the sitting took place in New York in the Waldorf Towers. A wonderful gentleness and an almost saintly look brooded on Ozaki’s face. But they were not easy to catch on film.

Evidently he heard my words with difficulty. His daughter acted as a competent interpreter and as she leaned towards his ear to transmit some amusing remark his countenance lighted up with an oddly childlike expression. It was then I made my picture.

Ozaki lived on to the age of ninety-five. I never saw him again, but whenever I am in Washington at blossom time, and loo at the Japanese cherry trees there, I remember that he gave them, when he was Mayor of Tokyo, to the American people… a living memorial to his faith in human freedom.

From Portraits of Greatness.