Spring Blooms with the National Cherry Blossom Festival

April 3, 2009 at 10:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

National Cherry Blossom Festival
By Mai Suzuki, JACL Intern

March 2009

cherry blossomThe cherry trees were presented as a gift from Japan in 1912 and are symbolic of Japanese flowering trees and a lasting friendship between people in the United States and Japan.  On Saturday, March 28, 2009, the opening ceremony of the National Cherry Blossom Festival was held at the National Building Museum.  This two-week petal party takes place around the Tidal Basin, which is a spectacular sight lined with beautiful cherry trees, and all over town in Washington, D.C. to mark the beginning of the celebration of cherry blossoms and the commencement of spring in Washington, D.C.

At the National Japanese American Memorial, which commemorates the Japanese American internment experience of World War II and is a tribute to Japanese American veterans, the eleventh annual Cherry Blossom Freedom Walk program was held.  This event highlights the fragility of civil liberties in times of crisis and the vigilant role that everyone must play in maintaining the constitutional rights of all Americans.  The Honorable Mr. Ichiro Fujisaki, the Ambassador of Japan to the United States, gave a tribute to all Japanese Americans.  Secretary Norman Mineta also gave greetings.  One memorable item was that he unexpectedly greeted the audience with “konban-wa (good evening)” even though it a morning program.  He had just returned from Japan that morning, and he mentioned the time difference between Washington, D.C. and Japan, where the time was late at night.  He mentioned that while the Japanese Americans are patriotic to the United States, they are proud of their Japanese ancestry.

The National Building Museum was the scene of Family Day activities and the Opening Ceremony.  All festivities were free, and participants were invited to explore a floating Japanese tea-room, learn to fold foroshiki, which is a Japanese traditional wrapping cloth, and enjoy performances by the Washington Toho Koto Society and others.  In the opening ceremony, Jero, who is a popular singer in Japan, sang Enka – a Japanese traditional type of song.  He is an American who is one quarter Japanese.  His Japanese grandmother loved Enka, and he went to Japan to be an Enka singer.  In Japan his character is seen as more Japanese than his other ethnic heritage.  Another performer, Kenichi Ebina, showed his unique Hip Hop dance.  He is a Japanese dancer and the only two-time grand champion at the world famous Apollo Theater.  The ceremony drew a large crowd of young people wanting to get a taste of contemporary Japanese entertainment.

On Sunday, March 29, the lantern Lighting Ceremony was held at the Tidal Basin.  This ceremony featured Japanese traditional performances – Koto, nursery rhymes, and folk songs.  Many good old songs were performed, such as “Sakura Sakura,” which is a very famous folk song depicting spring – the cherry blossom season, and “Chatsumi (tea-leaf picking),” which is also a famous folk song for a special time to pick tea leaves before summer.

In this ceremony, the Cherry Blossom Princesses were introduced.  They represent the National Conference of State Societies.  Each year, women between the ages of 19 and 24 are selected for their leadership, academic achievements, and interest in social, community, and world affairs.  This cultural and educational program is for women from across the 50 states, five territory societies, and the international embassy communities.  One is chosen by a spin of the wheel to be the United States Cherry Blossom Queen.  She travels to Japan to represent the U.S. in ceremonies there.  The princesses were so beautiful, like the cherry blossoms coming into full bloom in Washington, D.C.
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Mai Suzuki is a university student at Meiji Gakuin in Tokyo, Japan.  She is currently on an exchange program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is doing an internship at the JACL’s Washington, D.C. office.  She arrived in Washington, D.C. a few days before the National Cherry Blossom Festival began.  She is a new member of the JACL Japan Chapter.

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