Cherry Blossom festival begins

As part of an annual testament to the conclusion of winter, millions will journey to the banks of the Potomac tidal basin between now and April 10 to gaze in wonder at a sea of pink blossoms adorning Washington’s legendary Japanese cherry trees.

This year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival, which will mark the 93rd anniversary of the 1912 Japanese gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the city of Washington, is expected to draw more than 700,000 tourists and involve close to a billion participants, including locals, Diana Mayhew, executive director of the festival, said.

“Cherry trees can be found all over the United States, but this is a great way to bring a lot of people to the capital from all over the nation to celebrate,” Kate Hoffman, a media coordinator for the festival, said.

The two-week, citywide celebration will feature cultural cuisine, daily international performances, sporting events, arts and crafts demonstrations, and a variety of other attractions which will highlight the continuing friendship between the United States and Japan.

“Each passing year, the festival grows tremendously,” Hoffman said. “This year, a large portion of the city will be involved, as well as many representatives and dignitaries from Japan.”

The sold out opening ceremony, featuring Ambassador Ryozo Kato of Japan, congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams, took place Saturday at the Mandarin Oriental on Maryland Avenue. Other highlights include an evening of music and fireworks at Washington’s Southwest Waterfront on April 2 and the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade on April 9.

In addition, a number of independent cross-cultural events will occur throughout the city at such venues as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Union Station.

The peak viewing period for the 3,750 trees is expected to occur from April 4 to 9, when approximately 70 percent of the blossoms will be open, according to Robert DeFeo, chief horticulturalist of the National Park Service.

Cashing in on the hoards of travelers who flood the District each spring, high-profile organizations such as Target, Comcast and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority collectively pour millions of dollars into sponsorship for the event, Mayhew said.

WMATA spokesman Stephen Taubenkibel said the excellent publicity associated with such a well-received, national celebration is worth the monetary contribution.

“This event typifies the start of spring and the tourist travel season,” he said. “It brings in a lot of money to Washington, D.C., and Metro plays a big part in getting people to and from the mall area.”

Mayhew expressed similar sentiment, adding that the cherry blossoms have served as an invaluable public relations asset for the city over the years.

“These trees are a national treasure,” Mayhew said. “Not only is the Cherry Blossom Festival fabulous for its economic impact on the city, but the beauty these trees add to the image of the city of Washington is priceless.”

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