D.C. DIARY: Japanese culture blooms

April 5, 2001
Franklin Square Park
2 p.m.

Newscasters predicted the peak bloom of D.C.’s famed cherry blossom trees to fall somewhere between April 4 and 6, and they were right. I decided to take advantage of a sunny afternoon and check out some of the Cherry Blossom Festival activities on my lunch break from work.

I wandered over to Franklin Square Park on 14th and I streets where the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District hosted a music and arts festival to celebrate the budding of spring. As I walked into the D.C. Day Concert and Cultural Fair, upbeat music from the Zion Hill Gospel Singers greeted spectators. A decent-sized crowd had gathered to listen, and a few brave souls danced freely in front of the stage. Workers filled the benches eating their lunches. Many clapped their hands or tapped their feet in sync with the music to bands such as Latin Rhythms and the Caribbean Jazz Ensemble.

In another corner of the park, a table featuring calligraphy demonstrations by Nellie Chao attracted long lines. Men and women dressed in business suits eagerly waited to see their names appear in the beautiful script and spelled with Japanese symbols.

Upcoming Cherry Blossom Festival events that are worth checking out include a National Park Service Concert on Monday, featuring a high school band performance at. the Lincoln Memorial at 2 p.m. On Friday athletic fields around the Lincoln Memorial will host the Washington Rugby Club Tournament with teams from the United States, Canada and Japan. GW’s own Crew Classic, the official regatta of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, runs on Saturday and will feature more than 400 rowers from 14 colleges and universities.

Museums also take part in the celebration of spring, providing special exhibitions to coincide with the blooming of the Japanese trees. The Freer Gallery of Art hosts a new exhibit, “Real and Imagined Places in Japanese Art,” that showcases paintings, ceramics and lacquer work. The museum at the National Arboretum showcases 400-year-old bonsai trees from the Imperial Japanese household in a collection of more than 60 trees.

According to the “National Cherry Blossom Festival” Web site, www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.com, Washington’s first cherry blossom trees were imported in 1906 by horticulturist David Fairchild. Fairchild planted 100 Japanese trees on his Chevy Chase property. Their popularity spread and neighbors imported more trees.

The first cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin arrived in 1912 when the mayor of Tokyo presented a gift of 3,020 trees as a memorial of national friendship. More than 100 of the original cherry trees still stand, according to the Web site.

The Cherry Blossom Festival runs from March 24 to April 14, designed to celebrate the beautiful trees and Japanese culture. The cherry blossoms’ brief bloom holds significance in Japanese tradition. Samurai warriors regarded the flower as a symbol of their quality over quantity approach to life. The blossoms are also a reminder to the Japanese that life is beautiful and fleeting, according to the “National Cherry Blossom Festival” Web site.

D.C. celebrated the blossoming in 1927 when some Washington schoolchildren re-enacted the planting of the first trees. The event became an official celebration in 1934. Today’s festival takes place over two weeks to increase the chances that the fickle trees will bloom during the festivities.

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