This year, Washington DC’s National Cherry Blossom Festival marks the 100th anniversary of the gift of Yoshino Cherry trees from Japan with an extended five-week festival, starting 20th March and running until 27th April.
There are some 3,000 cherry trees around the tidal basin and every year before the festival begins, National Park Service horticulturalists monitor the five stages of bud development to predict the peak blooming period, defined as the time when 70% of the blossoms are open. This is currently forecast to be 20 – 23 March, with the initial blooming period starting several days beforehand.
The first batch of 2,000 trees arrived in 1910, a gift to First Lady Helen Herron Taft from Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador. The trees were diseased however, replaced by another batch in 1912, and these are the trees that burst into a sea of pink each spring for more than a million visitors to enjoy.
A further gift of trees was accepted by First Lady Lady Bird Johnson in 1965, and in 1981 some cuttings from these same trees were given back to Japanese horticulturalists to replace some cherry trees in Japan which had been destroyed by flooding.
Cherry blossom season is always one of the best times to visit Washington DC, but this year promises to be extra special with a five-week expanded festival packed with cultural events, parades, concerts and children’s activities.
Highlights include the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade; a giant spectacle of marching bands, elaborate floats, giant helium-filled balloons and street performers, the family-friendly Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival featuring traditional performances and martial arts demonstrations, and the annual Blossom Kite Festival, which includes demonstrations and kite-making for kids, before the ‘Hot Tricks Showdown’ where master kite fliers manouevre their sport kites into dazzling configurations during 30 seconds of music.
Music fans can enjoy Jazz at the Jefferson, with daily performances on the steps of the memorial between 19 – 22 April, or the sound of Japan in Echoes of the Silk Road and Taiko drum ensemble Taikoza. Film buffs are catered for too, with Samurai Cinema and plenty of other one-off screenings of contemporary Japanese films.
On April 7th, the Southwest Waterfront Firework Festival honours the centenary with seven hours of free music, live entertainment and delicious food offerings including a Food Truck Rally, before the fireworks kick off at 8pm. The display itself will be designed by experts from the city of Nagoaka, highly regarded in Japan for their creative fireworks.
For more information, including details of a free festival app, visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival website.