The streets of San Francisco’s Japantown were filled with people who had gathered amid the fluttering pink petals of the cherry blossom trees to celebrate the first day of the 2012 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival on Saturday, April 14.
Allen Okamoto, one of the co-chairs of the festival, described the annual event as “one of the most important institutions that we have in Japantown.”
“The festival is sometimes the only chance that a lot of Americans or anybody has a chance to see (things like) ikebana, calligraphy, martial arts (or) classical dance,” Okamoto said.
Aside from being the 45th anniversary of the festival, this year also marked the 100th anniversary of the 3,000 cherry blossom trees planted in Washington, D.C. in 1912.
San Francisco Postmaster Raj Sanghera helped unveil the Cherry Blossom Centennial commemorative stamp during the opening ceremony. She said the trees were a gift from the city of Tokyo.
While the unveiling of the stamp made for one of the highlights of the festival that day, others immersed themselves in the other cultural demonstrations the festival had to offer. Ikebana (flower arrangement) and Japanese paper doll displays decorated the rooms of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC), while performances in the Peace Plaza included traditional dances from members of the Hanayagi School of Japanese Classical Dance, a taiko performance from the San Francisco Taiko Dojo and the Saki Jazz band.
First-time visitors like 48-year-old Jane Lindholm had a hard time picking the one thing they enjoyed most about this festival.
“I’m just soakin’ it all in,” Lindholm said. “Yeah, this is my first time here and I don’t really have anything specific that’s my favorite. I’m just enjoying everything, basically.”
Okamoto said most festival visitors enjoy both the cultural events and the food. This year’s food bazaar included traditional foods like sushi, yakisoba and imagawayaki, as well as items with a modern twist to it like deep fried mochi.
“Japantown is one of the three remaining Japantowns in all of the United States, and we are so lucky to have one here that’s vibrant (and) is reflective of our international spirit,” San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee said during the opening ceremony.
Even among all of the festivities, Okamoto said he would like people to remember that it has been one year since the March 11, 2011 northern Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
“Although it’s a celebration of spring and everybody’s happy and there’s beautiful sunshine, we still can’t forget the people in Japan because they still need so much,” Okamoto said. “It’s difficult to keep it in everybody’s mind because the media isn’t covering the story anymore.”
JCCCNC’s Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund had a booth on Post Street that was collecting donations for the relief efforts.
The festival will continue Saturday, April 21 at 11 a.m. and Sunday, April 22 in San Francisco’s Japantown. The Grand Parade will begin on Sunday, April 22 at 1 p.m. at the Civic Center, and conclude in Japantown.
For more information, visit www.nccbf.org.
Accuracy is fundamental in journalism. In the April 19-May 2, 2012 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly, the article entitled “S.F.’s Japantown kicks off 45th annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival” erroneously identified a source as Jan Lindholm. Her name is Jane Lindholm.