Cherry blossoms are beautiful, white and pink blooms that fill their trees up. Since cherry blossom festivals are held in gardens that feature hundreds, if not thousands of trees, the riot of colour can be breathtaking.
Admiring sakura, Japanese cherry blossoms, is one of Japan’s oldest traditions. While many people tend to associate cherry blossom festivals with Japan, the country’s culture has been spreading. Cherry blossom viewing has turned into a worldwide phenomenon over the years.
While most international cherry blossom festivals are created after traditional Japanese hanami celebrations, where beautifully organized displays of Japanese cuisine, art, poetry, music and dancing are included, some festivals are decidedly local.
Cherry blossom viewing is an event that you need to time correctly – the blossoms only peak for a short time. Each cherry blossom festival, then, is timed to the local blooming season – usually, right after the first thaw after winter. If you love the idea of taking part in one of the most beautiful festivals that you can imagine, with a touch of the exotic Orient added, you need to look for something in your area.
The Copenhagen Sakura Festival: Denmark’s association with celebrating cherry blossoms began in 2005, when Japan decided to make a gift of 200 cherry trees to the city of Copenhagen as a way of celebrating the bicentennial of Hans Christian Andersen, the creator of such classics as The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling and The Emperor’s New Clothes. Today, all the trees flower in Langelinie Park, around the famous Little Mermaid statue.
If you plan to be in Copenhagen on May 7 or 8 in any year, Langelinie Park’s Sakura Festival of cherry blossoms and Japanese culture is an important attraction to make time for. Not only do you see vast gardens of spectacular cherry blossoms, the festival includes Japanese arts and crafts, tea ceremonies and martial arts displays, as well.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.: The festival in the nation’s capital is completely Japanese, too – it got its start a century ago when the mayor of Tokyo made a gift of thousands of cherry trees to the American people as a gesture of friendship. Today, when these trees bloom in the last week of March each year, the beauty is cause for celebration – it throws open the 2 week-long National Cherry Blossom Festival. The city turns it into a full-blown party, too – with parades, competitions, floats, balloons and other activities. You can’t miss one of the nightly lantern walks at Tidal Basin, with park rangers entertaining guests with great stories of the history of the festival.
The Sakura Matsuri in Brooklyn: Brooklyn has its own Botanical garden – the 600-acre Prospect Park. The month of May sees the park celebrate its Japanese cherry blossoms with a Japanese – themed festival. You have musical performances in the Japanese garden, origami and other traditional Japanese arts taught to children, manga comic book exhibitions, displays of traditional Japanese clothing and so on.
The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco: While nearly every large North American city has a Chinatown or two, only 3 have Japan-towns – San Francisco being one among them. San Francisco’s Cherry Blossom Festival between April 9 and 17 each year isn’t at some huge garden full of cherry trees. Rather, it’s in an urban setting, with cherry trees along the street in Japan-town. While the entire duration of the festival features classical Japanese street food on the streets, dance, music and even accomplished drummers beating on huge Japanese Kodo and Taiko drums, the Grand Parade that starts at City Hall on April 17 is the highlight.
The International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Georgia: Not every cherry blossom festival is about Japanese culture – the one in the city of Macon, Georgia that is thrown in the second half of March each year, is a completely American affair. With more than a quarter-million cherry trees in full bloom, it is also the largest in the world.
The city didn’t actually plan to be the cherry blossom capital of the world – rather, it was the work of two cherry blossom enthusiasts called Carolyn Crayton and William A. Fickling. They so loved the beauty of these blossoms that they handed cuttings from the Yoshino cherry tree in Fickling’s own backyard, to thousands of people around the city. Apparently, most of them plant those cuttings. With the city in full bloom in mid-March each year, the 10-day festival is a huge event – beauty pageants, street parties, hot air balloons, fireworks shows and so on.
The Cherry Blossom Festival in Vancouver: The city of Vancouver, Canada, is one of the newest members of the cherry blossom club, entering it only in 2005. It is one of the largest, though, with festivities organized at each one of the dozens of parks in the city. Stanley Park and Queen Elizabeth Park have some of the most elaborate arrays of blossoming cherry trees. A number of Japanese cultural events are organized throughout the city during the month – the Cherry Jam, which is a Japanese music extravaganza, the Haiku Invitational of poetry in the haiku style and so on.