Spring is in the air, and there’s no better way to celebrate and enjoy the tepid weather than Sakura Sunday. Hosted by the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia, Sakura Sunday is the largest of several events hosted for the 12th annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
Beginning April 5 at 11 a.m., patrons can enjoy this free event (donations are appreciated) under the blossoming cherry trees of Fairmount Park and the Horticulture Center. Sakura Sunday has a slew of activities and performances that are sure to delight and entertain any person, young or old. These include martial arts demonstrations, tea ceremony presentations, Japanese food tasting, origami and calligraphy workshops, dance performances and more.
While creating a better knowledge and understanding of the Japanese culture continues to be a goal for the Japan America Society, the Cherry Blossom Festival allows it to strive for an appreciation of nature as well.
“We’re trying to foster in our community an appreciation for the actual physical changes that happen at springtime and to appreciate beauty,” Sam Malissa said.
Malissa, assistant director of the Japan America Society, joined the organization three years ago after teaching English in Japan for two years.
In Japan, the blooming of the cherry blossoms signifies the beginning of spring and the start of the new fiscal and school year. Hoards of people gather under the cherry trees while in bloom, eating and drinking among friends, family and coworkers. These picnics are referred to as “ohanami,” which literally means “looking at flowers.”
The trees also symbolize the beauty and impermanence of life since they bloom and quickly fade, only lasting 10 days to two weeks, Malissa said.
The Cherry Blossom Festival was conceived by the Japan America Society in 1998 but at the time focused heavily on the Cherry Tree Planting Ceremony alone. The goal was to plant 100 trees every year for the next 10 years in order to have 1,000 trees in the Philadelphia area. The first year the event drew approximately 150 people. Last year, Sakura Sunday attracted nearly 20,000 patrons.
From planting trees, the event grew into the month-long festival with main events including the Festival Gala, Culture Week, Sakura Sunday and Sake Fest.
There are also events that are not done annually such as a tea tasting ceremony and a Kabuki dance and makeup performance. In its second year, the festival also hosts Dine-Out Japan, allowing 10 Japanese restaurants around Philadelphia to offer a 20 percent discount with a coupon that can be found on the Cherry Blossom Festival’s Web site.
“A lot of people just think about Japanese culture as sushi and tea ceremony and anime, and it’s more than that,” Malissa said. “The goal is to expose people to Japanese culture and society in the hopes that they’ll want to get more involved.”
Amanda Fries can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.