The monument was a gift of international friendship, and its inscription (now worn away) read, “Presented by the citizens of the Metropolis of Tokyo to the citizens of the City of New York in celebration of the Tokyo-New York sister-city affiliation inaugurated on February 29, 1960.”
The Japanese stone lantern, or ishi toro, was traditionally used for illumination at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. During the Momoyama period (1573–1615), the sculptural form was adapted for decorative use in tea gardens or roji. Granite or syenite was the material most often used. The size and proportion varied depending on its placement in the garden, and a number of diverse styles evolved. Over time, their function as a housing for oil or candles gave way to a decorative purpose.
The lantern in Sakura Park is an example of the style known as kasuga-toro, and includes a stylized lotus flower at the base of the capital, reliefs of imaginary animals, and a capstone with six volutes. The style originated in the province of Kasuga; this particular example was built and carved by skilled Japanese artisans in 1930. Its total height is more than 14 feet, and it weighs close to seven tons. It was delivered to the United States aboard the maritime training vessel Nippon Maru. Another Japanese toro may be seen locally in the pond at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
The dedication ceremony was attended by Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko, as well as 1,500 onlookers. In October 1987, Akihito, now Emperor, returned with the princess, and participated in a ceremony at the lantern attended by Mayor Edward I. Koch, Commissioner Stern, and Gordon Evans, president of the adjacent International House, built in 1924.
Sakura Park owes its name to the Japanese word for cherry tree. In 1912, Parks received a consignment of two thousand cherry trees from Japan, many of which were planted in the vicinity of Riverside Park. Today, both landscape and monument represent the enduring and flowering exchange between the American and Japanese people.