A yellow ribbon and a note expressing solidarity and sympathy with the earthquake victims in Japan on one of the cherry trees near the Tidal Basin. (By Astrid Riecken/The Washington Post)

There’s something magical when day shifts to night or night to day — those hours of in-betweens — and those are the best times to see the cherry blossoms in Washington. In the dawning or in the gloaming of the day, the tiny, delicate petals glow along the path around the Tidal Basin.

There’s something magical to the blossoms, whatever the hour, and each year they draw thousands to stand beneath them during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington. This year, the pathway is filled with the regular sights: tourists moved to poetic longings; boughs hanging low, laden with petals; and photographers angling for the perfect view. But something else is there this year: reminders of the gift’s original giver, Japan.

With the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami still a fresh wound slashed across the north of Japan, the symbolism of the cherry blossoms have added a stark and somber note to the celebrations of spring.

“Here at Cherry Blossoms in DC, National Park Service guides all stress trees were gift from #Japan so remember Japan now. Yes indeed!” wrote CBS News correspondent Dan Raviv on Twitter.

This year’s festival started with a “Stand for Japan” solidarity march on Thursday. Tokyo's ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, attended the event and spoke of the 3/11 disaster, the AFP reports.

The gift from Japan has not only enriched Washington’s spring celebration, but the trees also stand as a fitting metaphor for the tragedy. “Things are passing; nothing is permanent,” James Ulak said. The senior curator of Japanese art at the Freer Gallery and the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C, told NPR that the cherry blossoms have long symbolized the “ephemerality of life” and the “Buddhist notion of transience.”

Even the original gift was marred by that ephermerality of life. Japan originally gave the U.S. 2,000 trees in 1910, but the trees were deemed diseased and destroyed by park services. Two years later, another shipment of 3,000 trees was planted, given by Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo.

Washington resident Geralyn A. O'Marra wrote on Facebook: “A perfect and peaceful gift from Japan. I'm so glad I get to witness it year after year.”