Photo & Story by: Paulina Lam
Spring has arrived and the city is blooming in pink. Cherry blossom decals, lights, and banners are in and around the city to celebrate the National Cherry Blossom Festival that begins this week.
Chefs are putting the finishing touches on blossom-inspired dishes, while boathouses are opening up their doors to paddlers. This year, the Festival commemorates the 100-year anniversary of Japan’s gift of trees to Washington, D.C. with a five-week celebration.
The Festival will continue until National Arbor Day, April 27. Although this year’s celebration will be extended from its usual six days to five weeks, the “peak bloom” time for the cherry blossoms is still less than a week.
Robert DeFeo, the National Park Service’s chief horticulturist, predicted the peak bloom to be sometime between March 24 and March 31.
The Festival team has launched the City in Bloom campaign to spread the spirit of the flowers even after they are gone. Organizations, businesses, and institutions will be contributing their time and effort to present Festival events that will be primarily free to the public.
The cherry blossom trees are symbols of peace between Japan and the United States and represent the continued friendship of the two countries. The history of the cherry trees in the U.S. date back to 1885, the year journalist Eliza Scidmore returned from her trip to Japan.
For the next 24 years, Scidmore advocated for the planting of cherry trees in Washington, D.C. Her perseverance, along with the support of David Fairchild, an American botanist, led to the donation of more than 3,000 trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo and famed chemist, Dr. Jokichi Takamine.
Today, the trees are in three National Park Service locations: around the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park, and the Washington Monument grounds. In celebration of the cherry trees, visitors can start their journey at the Washington Marriott at Metro Center, the Festival headquarters, where official Festival products are sold.
This year, internationally renowned artists will perform at the opening ceremony of the Festival, including Grammy-nominated singer Sara Bareilles and Japan’s female R&B recording artist MISIA, on Sunday, March 25.
“The Festival approached all the artists and worked with them to be involved in this year’s opening ceremony. None of them have performed before at the Festival,” said Danielle Piacente, communications director of the festival.
The Festival will also feature a parade co-hosted by ABC’s Katie Couric and Alex Trebek, among others, on April 14. This year marks the first time the parade will be nationally televised and the Sakura Matsuri Street Festival, the largest Japanese festival in the country, will start promptly after.
Aside from these main events, the Festival will also feature performances and shows staged on the Canon Performance Stage at the Sylvan Theater and at the Jefferson Memorial Stage. Institutions, such as the National Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, will feature Japanese artwork that has never been seen outside of Japan.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival will not only celebrate the friendship between two countries, but also will be in remembrance of the earthquake and tsunamis that overtook Japan in March of last year.