Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sakura Matsuri in New York City 2009

From late March/early April to early May in New York City is cherry blossom season. What better way to herald the birth of spring than a shower of tiny pink petals falling softly like snowflakes from a sea of cherry trees?

While the Cherry Blossom Festivals in both Brooklyn and Queens are already over, there's still at least a week left of prime cherry blossom viewing, also known as hanami, a centuries-old Japanese custom. Hanami is a springtime tradition that involves picnicking under the beautiful pink canopies of cherry trees. It is a time for celebration, as well as contemplation of life's beauty and transience.

Cherry Blossom Festivals, or Sakura Matsuri are becoming more prevelent in the U.S., with several in New York City alone. In recent years, these festivals have become popular celebrations of Japanese culture with performances of both traditional and modern Japanese music, Taiko drumming, folk dancing, martial arts workshops, cosplay contests, kimono shows and tea ceromonies.

April 25th was the 5th annual Sakura Matsuri at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens and May 2nd and 3rd was the 28th annual Sakura Matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

I missed the Sakura Matsuri in Flushing Meadow Park, but I was able to check out the first day of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Cherry Blossom Festival. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden houses the largest and most varied collection of cherry trees outside of Japan, with 42 different varieties. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival draws hundreds of thousands of people who come to enjoy a weekend of Japanese art and culture.

I would highly recomend checking out the cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. In addition to the trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, there's also Sakura Park in Manhattan, which has quite a bit of history.

Sakura Park owes its name to the more than 2000 cherry trees delivered to parks in New York City from Japan in 1912. The cherry trees were to be presented as a gift from the Committee of Japanese Residents of New York as part of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in 1909. However, the steamboat that carried the original delivery of cherry trees from Japan was lost at sea. A new shipment of trees arrived in New York City in 1912, and they were planted in Riverside and Sakura Parks.

In 1960, another gift was given to the Sakura Park, this time by the City of Tokyo in the form of a stone Japanese latern, when New York became her sister city. A common fixture in traditional Japanese gardens, this latern was made from the native rock of Japan. Its inscription (now worn away) read: “Presented by the citizens of the Metropolis of Tokyo to the citizens of the City of New York in celebration of the Tokyo-New York sister-city affiliation inaugurated on February 29th, 1960.”

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