Botanic Garden Celebrates Cherry Blossom Festival

By Jennifer Ferd ‘15

Feast your eyes on the greatest display of Japanese culture outside of Japan. With Samurai sword fighting, traditional tea ceremonies, Taiko drumming, Japanese pop performances, and Bonsai Tokyo Goth Gals, this weekend-long cherry blossom festival has something to please people of all ages and interests.

Sakura Matsuri, meaning ‘festival of the cherry blos- soms’ in Japanese, was held at Brooklyn Botanic Garden on Sat- urday, April 26 and Sunday, April 27. The annual celebration has been taking place since 1981, always just in time for the peak bloom of the season. This year, however, the blossoms began to bloom a little later than expected.

“Most of the trees on the Cherry Esplanade are pre- bloom due to the bipolar weather conditions we’ve been seeing lately,” said Lisa Chen, Garden Apprentice intern. “This really is unusual considering the time of year.”

But most of the spotlight seemed not to be on the landscape of the garden. Crowds of people poured in through the Eastern Parkway entrance as early as 10 a.m., decked out from head-to-toe in attire that resembled that of heroic Marvel Superheroes, favorite anime and comic book series characters, or gothic Japanese maids, known as Lolita girls.

The first stop was the Marketplace at Osborne Garden. White tents were pitched along a grass-covered lawn and visitors swarmed to catch a glimpse of what each had in store. Hands rubbed the silk of the vintage kimonos at YokoDana Kimonos, taste buds tingled from the smell of the sticky red bean buns and tasty sweets at the Minamoto Kitchoan Wagashi Shop, and eyes scrambled across the pages of mangas and contemporary Japa- nese fiction at the Community Bookstore Sakura Shop. Both men and women were attempting to walk in their newly purchased authentic Getas, traditional Japanese wooden sandals elevated by two blocks of wood attached to the bottom.

The trail of tents led to the Cherry Esplanade, where festivities were just beginning to pick up. At the Sakura J-Lounge Stage, Brooklyn’s anime dance trio, IchiP, was performing an energetic dance to welcome the long awaited spring season. The three girls in red, green, and blue dresses performed their bubbly contemporary dance ritual to their three new songs while the audience clapped and cheered from the pink and yellow bean bags just below the stage. At the main stage, Soh Daiko, a Japanese drumming group, performed a 45- minute traditional taiko drum- ming ritual used to give strength and courage to warriors. The show was complete with Brooklyn-style martial arts and Samurai sword fighting masters.

From noon to five p.m., the Lillian and Amy Goldman Atrium housed a Mataro Ningyo Doll Museum and a Harie Rice Paper Collage Exhibit. The Kimekomi and Mataro dolls on dis- play, made out of authentic Japanese willow-wood, are crafted to resemble human-shaped figures for the use of household shrines and festival celebrations. Carmen Maria Acosta, a doll-maker, explained that the dolls on display were “very fragile and light- weight but each took two months to make.” The artwork hung up around the gallery, hand drawn on rice paper by Junko Yamada, featured vibrant colors and oriental landscapes.

“Most of my pieces are influenced by the breathtaking scenery of Japan’s Pacific Coast,” said Yamada. “I want the people who see them to feel how peaceful it is; it’s almost like a visual escape.”

The highlighted event was the demonstration of Cha- no-yu, or the Japanese tea ceremony. Admission into the tearoom was ten dollars for students. Before entering, it was required to remove any kind of footwear. Once past the rice screens, partak- ers sat cross-legged on the bamboo mat at an equal distance away from the people on either side. The Urasenke master guided the group through the process and emphasized the importance of fo- cusing on one thing at a time and putting all worries aside. Look- ing around, the Japanese paper scrolls and rock garden calmed your nerves and added to the feeling of serenity. A woman with a full painted face and traditional robe set a cup of pure matcha green tea down in front of you and waited patiently for a head bow. Then a light Japanese sweet, called wagashi, was served, to be split exactly in half and eaten. By the end of the demon- stration, we had all mastered the proper way to show our ap- preciation in Japanese terms. “Arigatou gozaimasu,” the group exclaimed to the host to thank her for her service.

“The tea ceremony was such a great experience to par- ticipate in. It really makes you feel at ease and lets you be one with the culture,” said Anastasiya, a high school student from Brooklyn. “By far the best part of my day.”

As part of tradition, the celebration came to a close with the Traditional Kimono Fashion Show at the main stage amongst the cherry blossoms. Cosplayers flocked to the spec- tacle to see if their dress was up to standards with the Edo-period couture. Japan Performing Arts, Inc. modeled their winter sea- son kimonos in vibrant pinks, purples, and yellow with intricate floral designs. Hitomi Himekawa, the J-Pop singer of Rainbow Bubble, NYC’s “effervescent J-Pop Style Idol Girls Group,” sang along to six of her most popular songs while Lolita girls pranced around in pink gowns and top hats, holding up color- ful Japanese parasols. Tokyo Goth gals and guys paraded back and forth down the Garden runway, trading spots with Victorian maidens and boho Bo-Peeps.

“Hitomi was so cute and it was an incredible perfor- mance,” said Adam Bironak, a big fan of Rainbow Bubble. “This event was definitely something I just couldn’t miss out on.”

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