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Traditional Dances at the Sakura Matsuri Festival

The arrival of cherry blossoms usually signals the start of spring but with cool temperatures here in New York City over the last few weeks, I was surprised to see that many trees were still in bloom at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s 30th annual Sakura Matsuri Festival on Sunday.

The Sakura Matsuri festival is billed as a weekend celebration of traditional and contemporary Japanese culture, including Ikebana, tea ceremonies and as temperatures soared to the 70s, attracted thousands of adults and children. Thankfully, the lines into the festival moved quickly.

Several women turned out in colorful kimonos, many people were also dressed as anime characters. I also spotted a few samurai – probably from the samurai sword demonstration earlier in the day.

As I entered the Gardens, I noticed stalls selling books, footwear, handmade totes created from Japanese newspapers, wall scrolls and vintage kimonos. Just beyond them, a magician entertained a tent full of very animated kids.

I followed the crowds towards the Cherry Esplanade. I was searching for the traditional dances, which according to the program would begin about 15 minutes after I arrived. There was still time to get in some photos as I walked the grounds and people watched.

The Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York performed many of the dances. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good spot for most of the hour-long performances, so I didn’t get many good photos but I didn’t miss the dances. One of the crowd favorites was the hanagasi odori, the flower straw-hat dance. The other was a dance that is traditionally performed by men — I’ve forgotten the Japanese name and forgot to ask my friends.

Here are some of my photos from the Sakura Matsuri festival:

At least two other cherry blossom festivals are scheduled to take place in the New York area this weekend but with all the rains today, I’m not sure there will be blooms left.

Linking up this week with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Regifting Japan’s Cherry Blossoms

I have been unable to look at the images that have been coming out of Japan since the  magnitude 8.9 earthquake and 23-foot tsunami devastated the north eastern portion of that country. They’re too surreal.

That the people I know, former co-workers, who have returned to work at headquarters in Tokyo and their loved ones are okay, have brought little consolation. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like being in Japan at the moment or being a Japanese outside of Japan. My friend, Maiko, misses her family and wishes she could go home. My co-workers are torn.

It’ll be several years before things will be “normal” again. The emotional impact will take even longer to heal.

But I know Japan will recover and rebuild – just like she did after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Instead of looking at the images of destruction, I find myself being drawn instead to photos of the cherry blossoms my cousin took last year when we met in Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossoms were given to D.C. in 1921 by the then mayor of Tokyo. Every year, they turn the area around the Tidal Basin pink, perfume the air with a sweet, clean scent and invite thousands of visitors to stroll, stop and smell the beautiful flowers. It is a sure indicator of spring’s impending arrival.

This year, the festival will be held from March 26th – April 10th. If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to do so. In an interesting twist, the National Park Service announced a few weeks ago that it would be sending cuttings from the original cherry trees back to Tokyo for propagation.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear threat, this is a wonderful regifting.

You can do your part to help Japan by sending a donation to the Red Cross, the Japan Society or other relief agencies that are assisting the Japanese people in their time of need.

Tidal Basin Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

Up close

Monument Blossoms

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