A Celebration of Friendship with Japan
Over the course of four weeks starting in late March, The National Cherry Blossom Festival takes over Washington, D.C. Taking place mostly during four weekends, the city of Washington, D.C. celebrates the gift of Cherry Blossoms from Japan in honor of a continued relationship and close friendship between the U.S. and Japan.
It all began in 1910 when the City of Washington, D.C. was informed by the Japanese Embassy that the City of Tokyo wished to donate 2,000 Cherry Blossom trees to be planted along the Potomac River. Unfortunately, when the trees arrived and were inspected, they were found to be infested with insects and nematodes. They were deemed unsafe for the U.S. environment and were sadly destroyed and a letter was written to apologize for doing so. Not to be deterred, in 1912, Japan sent 3,020 trees from a lineage of famous trees along the Arakawa River. The first two trees were planted by First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador.
The Festival first began in 1935 and has since grown larger and larger. The Festival was suspended during World War II and resumed in 1947 with the Cherry Blossom Princess and U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen program beginning in 1948.
As with any of my trips into Washington, D.C., I took the Metro subway from the outskirts of the city. I grew up listening to my mother and grandmother cursing the traffic and streets in D.C. and know they have only gotten worse. Plus, I enjoy taking the Metro. I had originally wanted to be in D.C. for the sunrise, but since the Metro didn’t open until AFTER the sunrise that day, I had to change my plans.
My first order of business was to get something to eat. I like to eat at places that aren’t commercialized. I think a locally owned small business gives you a much better feel for a location and its people. As always, I did my research and found out about a small spot located only a few blocks from the Capitol Building. After I got off the Metro, I walked 5 blocks on East Capitol St NE to Jimmy T’s.
Jimmy T’s is a small little place located on the corner of East Capitol St NE and 5th St SE. If you aren’t paying attention, you can miss it. As one reviewer said on TripAdvisor, “It’s a “greasy spoon” in the best sense of the term!” They were dead on. It is definitely a small hidden jewel in the heart of a tourist area. They have a good selection of simple food and at great prices. If you are in D.C. on a budget or just want a local place to get some good food, check out Jimmy T’s.
Now, I grew up about an hour and a half away from D.C. and have been many, many times. But I have never been to any of the Cherry Blossom Festival events. This would be my first time experiencing D.C. during one of its busiest times of the year. After walking around the Capitol Building for a few, I headed to the Parade. I’d never seen a parade like this in person. I’d watched on TV from the comfort of my own home many times. After finding an empty spot just past the grandstand, I, with thousands of others, waited for the parade to start. After the first thirty minutes of the parade, I began to wish I had paid for a seat in the grandstand where I could sit and watch the parade in comfort rather than struggling for position to get a good picture and even see the parade.
After that first half hour, I was getting really warm in the sun and tired of trying to see the parade over the heads of others. I decided it would be better for me to start making my way to the Sakura Matsuri-Japanese Street Festival. So I headed toward the nearest Metro station and began making my way towards the Street Festival.
Now, if you don’t know much about D.C. let me tell you a few things. One- D.C. is made up of four areas; Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest. Two- There are roads that have the exact same name and are NOT connected, NOR are they in the same area. Even though I knew this, I ended up going to a different part of D.C. looking for the Festival. In my family, it is never a good trip unless one of us gets lost.
After realizing I was in the wrong location, and finding my way to the correct location, I finally found the Street Festival. I was instantly overwhelmed as I approached. After I paid my entry fee, I began to explore the large festival area. There were food and merchandise vendors everywhere, as well as a few stages that had bands or martial artists performing.
Since I had gotten lost and spent more time than it should have taken to get here, I realized I was getting hungry. Being as I have never really had Japanese food, I was looking forward to trying some. I made my way around the food vendors and chose one where I got something that resembled chicken lo mien. I also picked up a cup of honey dew bubble tea. After eating my food, and forcing down the tea that I did not find refreshing, I began exploring.
My first stop was the stage closest to the entrance. A Japanese band had just finished their performance and a costume contest was starting. All of the contestants that I watched had costumes that they had obviously spent time and money on. All of them were dressed up as some type of Anime or Manga characters. None of which I was familiar with. In fact, I was starting to realize that most of the festival goers were anime or manga fans.
After watching the costume contest, I began to explore the many vendors there. Many of them were selling anime and manga products. I saw a Japanese food tent where they were cooking in various Japanese styles, a martial arts demonstration stage, and another performance stage. I tried my hand a few times to win prizes, one being a free trip to Japan! Sadly, I didn’t win. One of these days I’ll make my way there. I talked to a couple of the tourism booths and got information. On the last stage I saw a band tuning up before a performance. I decided to stick around and check them out, because they seemed really interesting. They had quite a mixture of instruments. You had the usual guitar, bass guitar, and drum set ups. But they also had a saxophone, flute, and even bagpipes! After enjoying their first song, even though I had no clue what it was about or what the lyrics said, I decided to leave the street festival. I had been on the move for twelve hours now and was in need of a break. I’ll admit, I was hoping for a little more of the traditional culture and history. But for $10, I couldn’t complain about the street festival.
I had plans to attend events that evening at the Carnegie Library. The event was called the Cherry Blast. They were going to have sushi and sake workshops, cosplay competition, a dance party, live painting, anime fashion show, and more. The cost to have access to everything was $75. After experiencing the street festival, and the Cherry Blast sounding like a bigger version of the street festival, I decided to forego the Cherry Blast and call it a day. I was definitely disappointed in not seeing more about Japanese culture other than anime and manga. I was hoping to see more about traditional culture and history. I guess to get what I was looking for, I’ll just have to go to Japan. Which is just fine with me.