With Spring on the horizon, the flowering of the cherry tree is one of nature’s most colourful spectacles. Although Cherry Blossom is perhaps more evocative of the Land of The Rising Sun, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC is well worth a visit.
The planting of cherry trees on this historic city site originated in 1912 with a gift from the people of Japan. With the support of the First Lady, Helen Herron Taft, a gift of 2000 cherry trees was donated by the City of Tokyo and arrived in Washington in January 1910. Unfortunately, the trees were diseased and had to be burnt. A second shipment of 3026 trees arrived in March 1912 and two were planted on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin by Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese Ambassador. Washington’s world famous Festival grew from this simple ceremony. The two original trees remain to this day.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is planned to coincide with the blooming of the trees. Peak bloom date is defined as the day in which 70% of the buds are open. The blooming period starts several days earlier and can last for 14 days depending on the weather. Naturally visitors try and plan their visit when the trees are in bloom. The various stages of the bloom are all wonderful so whenever you plan to visit you will be rewarded with something memorable on the Tidal Basin.
The Festival itself has an amazing variety of events too numerous to describe. This article attempts to give our readers a flavour of the festival period.
On Saturday, 4th April there are two great events. One is one of Washington’s most exciting traditions – the Festival Parade. The parade is a must for children of all ages and marches along historic Constitution Avenue from 10 am. It includes marching bands, dance and drumming from the US and Japan, Cherry Blossom Queens and a choir. Giant balloons, floats, vintage automobiles, clowns and mascots add to the spectacle.
On the same day, the Japan-America Society present the 49th Annual Sakura Matsuri or Street Festival. The Matsuri has 4 main areas. Traditional Japanese Arts and Crafts, Japanese culture including anime (animation) Manga (Comics) and J-Pop music. It features 15 Japanese and Asian restaurants, 2 Beer Gardens and a Sake tasting area. The Ginza Market offers traditional Japanese products for sale.
The culture vultures can join the Freedom Walk, a non-competitive event which honours the sacrifices and injustices suffered by American – Japanese citizens in WW2. The 43rd Smithsonian Kite Festival takes place in the Washington Memorial Grounds from 10 am on 28 March. There are daily performances on the Tidal Basin Stage. The National Building Museum hosts a family day with lots of hands-on fun, exploring Japanese art. Again, just a few of the many attractions.
For the Foodies, enjoy an evening with sushi and sake on 1st April at the National Geographic Museum. Also on the 1st April, Madame Tussauds is transformed into a Cherry Blossom Wonderland for the Washington Wine Academy’s Soiree and Reception, held in Waterfront Park. At the reception and as a prelude to fireworks, enjoy military and local music together with family related activities and of course food.
For the children and the more active members of the family, celebrate the arrival of Spring with a 2-hour bike ride around the Nation’s Capital. Relax on a tour boat viewing the blossoms and monuments on a 90 minute tour from the Washington Marina. Choose between the morning Blossom Secrets Stroll or the more romantic Lantern Walks with a National Parks Ranger, for an evening walk amongst the cherry trees. How about English Tea aboard a yacht as you cruise among the blossoms. Still on the water, board the Spirit of Washington for an evening with a grand buffet, live music and views of the Festival Firework displays.
There is no doubt that this, the world’s largest National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC is an absolute extravaganza with varied events for all ages, set against a background of the beautiful flowering cherry trees. Certainly a must for a Spring break.