The dancing cherry blossoms

by Zeenat Khan

ex01Winter in Washington DC has finally retreated; a much anticipated spring has arrived in the nation’s capital with grandeur. With warm days and blue skies, Washington is at the onslaught of spring euphoria.
The air is very still, and we had some sun-warmed days since the beginning of this spring; now the city is cloaked in cherry blossoms. We are blessed to see the brilliance of this frail flower with renewed sense of joy. The soft white and pretty pink petals are cascading the earth. They fade away before our restless hearts catch sight of its beauty and glory in a very short time.
Every year Washington DC welcomes the arrival of spring with the two-week long Cherry Blossom Festival which resembles a queen’s coronation. During these two weeks, about a million people come to the capital to view this spectacular festival.
The kinship between the United States and Japan is celebrated in the spring, and it is an event unlike any other that takes place here.
ex02The story began in the 1900s with a campaign which urged that Washington needed the beautiful flowering cherry trees from Japan to beautify itself. In Japan, cherry tree is called Sakura, which is a lovely flowering plant.
In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo, Yokio Ozaki presented three thousand cherry tree seedlings to US president William Howard Taft as a symbol of goodwill gesture in continuing a friendly relationship.
The cherry trees in Washington DC were planted around the Thomas Jefferson Memorial near the tidal basin along the Potomac River.
This particular year marks the 103rd anniversary of the gift of cherry trees, and the ongoing friendship between Japan and America, who were on opposite sides during World War II.
During the festival, the much awaited full bloom occurs depending on the weather.
The event this year began from March 28th, and will last until April 14th.
During the opening ceremony, both Japanese and the US dignitaries were in attendance. There is a stage that was set up near the edge of the tidal basin. On the stage – music, dance and songs were performed in English and Japanese by local, national as well as international artists. The opening ceremony was followed by a kite flying event called the Blossom Kite Festival.
For this year’s great festivity, April 11-14 has been predicted as the peak bloom forecast. Hence, the streets of the capital now are filled with thousands of tourists and local people, who come to experience this spectacular happening.
On April 11, a Parade will start from the iconic Constitution Avenue and will stretch to ten blocks. Both sides of the Constitution Avenue in Washington DC will be filled with spectators to watch the lively parade.
Marching bands from all across the country with colourful costumes will be followed by celebrity entertainers and performers. ‘They will burst down the parade route in a grand spectacle of music and showmanship that is only seen once a year during the festival.’
There are other street jubilees and live performances that are going on. More than 200 cultural performances and special events have been planned. There will be food vendors offering authentic American and Japanese cuisine.
The Japanese street fiesta, Sakura Matsuri provides thirty-five hours of endless fun. This is where the younger people gather the most; it focuses on modern Japanese culture.
A few special events are saved for the evening hours. Some choose to go aboard the Spirit of Washington, a cruise ship for an evening of fun and entertainment with live music, dancing and enjoying a sumptuous buffet dinner, while cruising through the Potomac River.
The Japanese embassy sponsors the annual Lantern Lighting Ceremony. The Cherry Blossom princess from the Japanese embassy first salutes all 50 US princesses, then lights the 300-plus year old Japanese stone lantern.
There is a rare opportunity to visit the Japanese embassy by the fifty pageant princesses from each US state. They are greeted by the official Cherry Blossom princess. Then they are treated to a Japanese tea ceremony that is held in their honour.
The Cherry Blossom Festival ends with a cherry blossom grand black-tie gala and the grand finale will have the fireworks. At the gala, the next year’s National Cherry Blossom Queen is crowned.

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