Cherry Blossom Festival draws thousands despite weather

Every year millions flock to the nation’s capital not to become enriched in US history, but to bask in the beautiful spring weather that is welcomed by trees full of little white flowers.

The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place in Washington DC from the end of March to the middle of April. Along with the display of trees that beautify and lighten up the city streets, a festival rich of history and Japanese heritage engages visitors from around the globe.

The 2007 National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates its 95th anniversary.

During a ceremony honoring the gift of the blossoms, 95-year-old Yukika Sohma Ozaki, daughter of the late Mayor Yukiko Ozaki who gave the original 3,000 trees to Washington DC in 1912, spoke about her memories about the gift and recited a poem. The Washington Post quotes Sohma saying that “One has to be tough…Even in the war years, when people wanted to cut the cherry trees down, there were some ladies who stopped them. If we keep our hearts open, we can always do some good.”

New to the festival this year is a photo contest sponsored by Lulu.com, an online publishing marketplace, where 12 winning photos will be chosen to be published in the 2008 National Cherry Blossom Calendar, with the first place winner having their picture on the cover and winning a new Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT camera.

“We’ve never done something like this before and it is a fun way to get use out of the numerous photos that visitors take,” Danielle Piacente, National Cherry Blossom Festival Spokesperson said.

Yoko Ono’s Wish Trees concept is another addition to the festival this year. There are ten trees located in DC; specifically at the Town Hall Education, Arts & Recreation Campus in Southwest DC, at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on the National Mall, and at the Title Basin Stage, home to daily festival entertainment, and next to the Jefferson Memorial where most of the Cherry Blossoms reside. After the wish trees bloom, Ono will gather the wishes and make them a part of her “Imagine Peace Tower” sculpture to be erected in October of 2007 in Reykjavik, Iceland.

“As a child in Japan, I used to go to a temple and write out a wish on a piece of thin paper and tie it around the branch of a tree,” Ms. Ono has said. “Trees in temple courtyards were always filled with people’s wish knots, which looked like white flowers blossoming from afar.”

A woman from Massachusetts said that the Cherry Blossoms are “beautiful, [and that she enjoyed] walking along and watching the petals fall into the tidal basin”.

Jeff Anderson, from Syracuse, New York, was a little disappointed to see the Cherry Blossoms after they had peak and after the winter blast that came in for the weekend. Even though the blossoms were less than expected, he was still excited “to see them bloom and [is] still getting a lot out of the trip.”

“We have had to deal with the weather.but, it is more about what the trees symbolize and when they are not blooming it is about all of the events celebrating this special gift. 95 years of blossoms,” Piacente said.

Christin Perez, a young boy from Los Angeles, CA, said that he enjoyed seeing all the museums that DC offers calling them “pretty cool” and saying that he hopes the blossom “don’t go extinct”.

After the peak day of blooming, many visitors view the monuments and let the locals enjoy the splendor of the district. Megan Kennedy, from Bryans Road, Maryland, said that she was “enjoying DC for its calmness and beauty.”

Rebecca Pawlowski, Director of Communications for the Washington DC Convention & Tourism Corporation, said in an email that “The National Cherry Blossom Festival has dramatic economic impact on the District and the region’s economy…We can attribute more than 800,000 trips on Metro by festival visitors during the two weeks of the event, and hotel occupancy runs in the range of 82%, a 10% increase [from any average weak].”

The 46th annual Cherry Blossoms Parade, with huge inflatable balloons, marching ands and entertainers will be held on Saturday, April 14th, 2007, with performances by America’s Got Talent winner Bianca Ryan, DC-based Sweet Honey in the Rock, and American Idol 5th season finalist Ace Young along with a performance by the Washington Wizard’s Dance Team.

After the parade The Japan-America Society of Washington DC presents the 46th annual Sakura Matsuri–Japanese Street Festival. This festival is the “is the largest one-day exhibition of Japanese culture in the United States.”

The blossoms “look like the way you see it in the paintings, pinkish in color and beautiful,” Mallika Baruah, from Bear, Delaware, said.

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