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Japan/America Society of Kentucky

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O-Hanami: The Sakura Festival in Washington D.C.

02 Apr 2010 10:27 AM | Deleted user

By: Kristen Thomas
JASK Volunteer

Photos: Sarah Darnall
Kentucky World Trade Center

Each year the Japanese eagerly await the return of the sakura (cherry blossoms) that mark the return of spring after months of winter gloom. As the delicate pink flowers emerge, so do the people, drawn out of their homes and offices for hanami (“flower viewing”)undefinedenjoying the warming weather, good sake, the company of friends, and, of course, the stunning views of sakura fluttering in the breeze.  Hanami is a quintessentially Japanese tradition, though one need not be in Japan to experience it.

The United States offers its own opportunities for hanami, with the most famous being the National Cherry Blossom Festival held annually in late March and early April in Washington, D.C.  Over one million visitors annually attend the two-week festival, which takes place this year from March 27 to April 11.  The festival was made possible by a 1912 gift of some 3,000 cherry trees from the mayor of Tōkyō to the people of Washington, D.C. to honor the friendship of the U.S. and Japan.  In return, the United States Government sent a gift of dogwood trees to Japan in 1915.  Since 1935, an official festival has been held commemorating the two countries’ relationship.  Today there are about 3,750 cherry trees of 16 varieties beautifying the Tidal Basin area near the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial.

Though the cherry trees are certainly the stars of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, also featured are more than 150 cultural offerings for the whole family each day.  Concerts, street vendors, fireworks, a parade, art shows, a 10-mile run, and the Sakura Matsuri Japanese cultural celebration are just some of the festival’s main attractions.  Performances of traditional Japanese arts such as taiko drumming add to the festive atmosphere.  Admission to most events is free.

For more information about the National Cherry Blossom Festival and to plan your visit to Washington, D.C. for America’s version of hanami next spring, visit the official website at www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.

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