(AP Photo/Kamenko Pajic)

MetLife will be the sole insurance sponsor of this year’s centennial National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C. The insurer has been named a Leadership Circle member of the Centennial Host Committee and will be a presenting sponsor of the opening ceremony on March 25, 2012 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The cherry blossoms, besides being harbingers of Spring, are meant to facilitate cross-cultural understanding and symbolize the rich and lasting friendship between the U.S. and Japan. The persevering and storied nature of that friendship is encapsulated by the 100 year anniversary of the gift from Tokyo to Washington.

MetLife itself has a storied history with Japan. It is the company’s second biggest market outside the U.S. MetLife has been a presence in the country since 1972. More recently they have acquired Alico which cemented its position in the life insurance market. It is the second largest life insurer in the country with a market currently worth $441 billion. Japan, with its aging population of 127 million residents over the age of 65 is also a thriving market for the sale of retirement products and MetLife is well positioned to capitalize.

In commemoration of both the 100 year anniversary of the Cherry Blossom trees as well as the approaching one year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster, MetLife will be fundraising for the purchase of cherry blossom trees to be planted in the Tohuoku region of Japan which was deeply affected by the disaster. The trees will be descended from those originally planted in Washington D.C.

“We hope the planting of the cherry trees in the Tohuoku region will be a symbol of renewal for this greatly damaged area of Japan,”said William J. Toppeta, Vice Chair EMEA/Asia, MetLife.”