National Cherry Blossom Festival

National Cherry Blossom Festival
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is one of the most famous flower festivals in the United States. Held every spring, it attracts more than 1.5 million people who come to Washington, D.C. to enjoy the blossoming cherry trees and diverse programming. Over the years, the festival has become the nation’s largest springtime celebration.

The first attempts to plant Japanese cherry blossom trees in Washington, D.C. date back to the early 20th century. In August 1909, the city of Tokyo donated 2 thousand cherry trees to the United States to be planted along the Potomac River. The trees arrived in January 1910 but were never planted due to being infested with nematodes and insects which endangered local growers.

Having heard about the unfortunate incident, Japanese chemist Jokichi Takamine and the Mayor of Tokyo Yukio Ozaki donated even more trees. In February 1912, over 3000 cherry trees arrived in Seattle on board the Awa Maru and were shipped to Washington, D.C. The official planting ceremony took place on March 27, 1912. First Lady Hellen Herron Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two trees.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival was created to commemorate the gift and honor the lasting friendship between Japan and the United States. The first festival was organized by numerous civic groups and took place in late 1934. Since the involvement of Hellen Herron Taft, many first ladies of the United States have been involved in the festival. They include Mamie Eisenhower, Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama.

The festival traditionally starts on March 20 and spans four weekends. However, the 2012 festival lasted five weeks to accommodate a diverse schedule dedicated to the 100-year anniversary of the gift. The event is coordinated by the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc. It’s an umbrella organization comprising representatives of business, governmental, and civic organizations.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival begins with a family day followed by an official opening ceremony. Every day of the festival features an array of cultural events and activities such as sushi and sake tastings, cultural performances, art exhibitions, dance and singing, educational events dedicated to cherry blossoms, kimono fashion shows, martial arts demonstrations, rakugo (Japanese art of storytelling), and more.

One of the festival’s highlights is the Blossom Kite Festival that usually takes place on the first or second weekend of the festival. Another highlight is the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade that runs for ten blocks along Constitution Avenue. The parade features elaborate floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands, celebrity entertainers, and performers.

In 2020, the event was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Photo: George Brett




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