Things to Do at Washington, D.C.'s Cherry Blossom Festival

Posted Mar 26th 2010 04:23 PMUpdated Aug 5th 2010 10:16 AM

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Nearly a century ago, Yukio Ozaki -- then mayor of Tokyo -- gave three thousand cherry trees to the city of Washington. The first two trees were planted in West Potomac Park on March 27, 1912 to honor the friendship between the United States and Japan. The flowering trees have been celebrated ever since, both for their striking beauty and their symbolism.

The first Cherry Blossom Festival was held in D.C. in 1935. Since then, the festival has grown (in 1965 Lady Bird Johnson received 3,800 more trees from the Japanese government) and continues to grow in preparation for the centennial extravaganza in 2012. This year's festival runs from March 27th to April 11th and will draw record crowds. For the best experience, check the weather forecast before heading out (spring showers are common at this time of year) and consider using the free shuttle service from East Potomac Park to avoid downtown traffic. See www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org for more information and planning advice.

Top Ten Festival Activities

Dancing in the Streets

Yakisoba, green tea, Japanese street performances -- pretend like you're in Tokyo without leaving Washington, at the 50th Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival. The festivities kick off right after the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade at the intersection of 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Five performance groups, flown in from Japan, entertain the crowd with traditional music, martial arts, hip-hop, acrobatics and modern dance; vendors sell Japanese treats from sushi and yakitori to sake and green tea. Sponsored by the Japan-America Society of Washington DC, the festival occurs on April 10th from 11am-6pm and is free to the public.

Edgy Art

Billed as "A Night of Contemporary Art and Music," Cherry Blast first kicked off at the 2009 festival. This year, the innovative event -- featuring funk and soul DJs collaborating with classical musicians, vibrant video installations, and cherry blossom-inspired performance art, will take place on Friday, April 2 from 9pm to 1am at 1701 Florida Avenue NW. Cherry Blast is only open to guests 21 years and older; the $10 cover fee includes a drink. The Pink Line Project, a self-proclaimed 'catalyst for the culturally curious,' puts on Cherry Blast with additional support from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Blossoms by Bike

One of the best ways to appreciate the extents of Washington's collection of cherry blossoms is from atop a bicycle. The Bike and Roll Kiosk organizes a two-hour ride through the city -- highlighting, of course, the blooming trees, but also taking visitors past other attractions in the nation's capital. Join the bike tour at noon or 3pm every day of the week, with an extra 9:30am departure on weekends. Admission is $32 for adults and $22 for children; you can find the kiosk at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Cherry Parade

What's a party without a grand parade? The largest event of the festival is the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, which takes over Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th Streets, NW, on Saturday April 10. Families line up early to see huge floating balloons -- reminiscent of New York's Thanksgiving Day Macy's Parade -- marching bands, dance troupes, and the National Cherry Blossom Festival All-Star Youth Tap Dance Team and Choir. Though most spectators watch from the sidelines of the parade route, grandstand seating is also on sale for $17 per seat through Ticketmaster.

High Fashion

Fashion-wise, Washington DC residents are famously conservative -- and who better to introduce a shot of the avant-garde into the scene than the Japanese? Throughout the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Textile Museum will show a fashion-forward collection of designs from the private collection of Mary Baskett by Japanese tastemakers like Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. The garments mix traditional fabrics with unusual materials like bird feathers, bamboo and stainless steel. The exhibit is available through April 11 with a special after-hours 'Hapi Hapi Hour' showing at 6pm on April 9 ($10) with live music and drinks. See www.textilemuseum.org for more information.

High Tea on the River

For those who appreciate the finer things in life Capital Yacht Charters offers a 90-minute river cruise on a classic yacht with English-style High Tea service. Choose from a selection of teas, pastries, sandwiches and soups while taking in views of the cherry blossoms. Twice-daily cruises are available on March 27th and 28th, April 3rd and 4th, and April 10th and 11th. The yacht leaves from the Washington Marina; advance ticket purchase is required, $65 for adults and $30 for children.

A Little (Japanese) Night Music

During the Cherry Blossom Festival, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts joins the celebration of Japanese culture with a line-up of free Japanese musical performances. On April 9, the Tamagawa University Taiko Drumming Ensemble takes to the stage, and the following evening, the Harmonia Opera Company will put on a folk song concert. The Millennium Stage series is free to the public, and no tickets are required (after the Cherry Blossom Festival, you can check out performances of jazz, classical guitar, and modern dance.) Log onto www.kennedy-center.org for details.

Photo Opportunity

When your amateur snapshots just aren't cutting it anymore, banish blurry still-lifes and learn how to properly photograph the cherry blossoms, and the city, with the Washington Photo Safari. Professional photographers take students to the Tidal Basin to experiment with lighting and composition. In addition to taking home a valuable tutorial on travel photography, you'll also have a first-class picture collection of the city in spring. Sunrise safaris start at 6:15am at the Paddle Boat Station while afternoon safaris, starting at 3pm, depart from FDR Memorial Bookstore. Fees range from $59-$99 per person.

Ikebana Exhibition

Curious about Ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging? At the Bonsai and Penjing Museum of the US National Arboretum, seventeen experts will offer demonstrations on Sundays at 1pm. On April 17th at 1pm, Ikebana International Washington offers a Family Workshop to teach the basics of shape, line, form and minimalism and the spiritual aspects of Ikebana. The event is free and an excellent introduction to a fascinating art form that's still little-known in the US.

Cherry Cuisine


During the Cherry Blossom Festival, a number of different restaurants in Washington offer special menus and dishes inspired by cherries and Japanese culture. At Bistro Bis, sample the Gâteau aux Cerises, a cherry-almond financier layered with cherry mousse, almond praline, morello cherry gelée and Montmorency sauce ($11.50). For an after-dinner cocktail, try the Japanese Cherry Blossom Martini with sake, St. Germain and cherry puree ($9) at Chef Geoff's Downtown. For full listings of restaurants offering cherry festival-inspired cuisine, log onto http://washington.org/cherryblossom/restaurants.html.


Top Ten Activities That Have Nothing To Do With Blossoms

Go Fly a Kite

The 44th Annual Smithsonian Kite Festival sends colorful shapes high in the sky over the National Mall on Saturday, March 27th, from 10am-3:30pm. Events include kite-making instruction, hand-made kite competitions and flying demonstrations by kite-flying experts. Since the event coincides with opening day at the Cherry Blossom Festival, it'll be a piece of cake to stop by the Kite Festival on your way to cherry-related functions happening nearby. Don't forget your camera: the sight of so many flying kites in the nation's capital is unforgettable.

Literary Legend

Fans of high-brow literature will jump at the chance to attend this event: on April 7th, the Folger Shakespeare Library will host Ian McEwan, author of Atonement and winner of both the Booker Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award, as he reads from his new novel, Solar. The reading, one of the author's only four US appearances, will take place at 7:30pm and tickets cost $25 per person. Log onto www.folger.edu for more details and reservations (and the Library's impressive schedule, including an Isabel Allende reading on April 30th.)

Hunt for Eggs

If you're in town on Easter weekend, don't miss the annual Easter Eggstravaganza in Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill -- it's a sight to see, with 1,500 people racing around the park in search of colorful eggs and children playing with pet bunnies brought in for the occasion. Other attractions include an Easter-themed carnival with a life-size Easter bunny, cotton candy, face painting, games, and balloon artists. Admission is free; the event begins at 1pm on Saturday, April 3. Visit http://eggstravaganzadc.com for more information.

Art and Artinis

During the month of March, the Corcoran Gallery of Art sponsors 'Artini 2010,' a challenge to some of Washington's top mixologists to concoct martinis inspired by works of art from the current exhibit, 'A Love of Europe: Highlights from the William A. Clark Collection.' Locals sample the martinis at city restaurants and vote for the winner, which will be unveiled at the ARTINI benefit on Saturday, March 27. Tickets start at $85 per person; first-class art talk and delicious cocktails are, of course, included. Check out www.corcoran.org for last-minute tickets.

Evening in Peru

For a real jump from the Japanese culture that's dominating Washington during the Cherry Blossom Festival, check out the 4th Annual Cocina de Coprodeli, sponsored by the Embassy of Peru and held on April 1st at 6pm. The evening of Peruvian food, pisco sours and dancing is for a good cause -- it benefits nutrition programs in the homeland. Save a few dollars by buying tickets in advance; they're $35 ahead of time and $40 at the door. See www.coprodeliusa.org for more information.

Lincoln Memorial in Review

Every tourist who's ever visited Washington DC has stood in front of the larger-than-life Lincoln statue inside the Lincoln Memorial. Few know that the statue was based on an original wooden model designed by architect Henry Bacon. Through April 4, the wooden statue (and a plaster model of today's Lincoln Memorial centerpiece) are placed side by side at the National Gallery of Art on Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue. The exhibit, 'Designing the Lincoln Memorial: Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon,' is free to the public. See www.nga.gov/exhibitions/lincolninfo.shtm for information.

Italian Film

Expand your cinematic knowledge at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre: the institute is presenting a series by Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini through the month of May. Each film, including 'Variety Lights,' 'The Road,' 'I Vitelloni,' and 'The Swindle,' will be shown several times during the first week of April. The theatre also screens a variety of classic and contemporary films; check out www.afi.com/silver for the full schedule and don't miss a coffee or glass of wine at the AFI Silver's cafe after the film.

Tech-savvy Wine Tasting

The Sip and Twit America wine festival is, as the name suggests, a combination of wine tasting and technology -- it's sponsored in part by WineTwits, a web community of wine enthusiasts. The 2010 event will be held at the Whittemore House and focuses on American wines from California, Oregon, and Maryland. Instead of writing down tasting notes, participants are encouraged to tweet their reactions to each wine; the tweets will be posted on large screens in the tasting venue and on the WineTwits website. Tickets cost $39 per person; check www.giramondowine.com/events for more details.

Material World

A 'handmade fashion festival' will show the creative (and wearable) works of underground fashion and accessory designers on April 3. Doors open at 6pm -- get there early if you're set on picking up handmade t-shirts in your size before the masses arrive -- and a fashion show begins at 7:30pm with live music at 9pm. Material World is sponsored by the Soundry, an art gallery/coffee shop/studio space that supports alternative artists. Check out www.soundry.net for more information on this and other related events.

Latin Music Lecture

On March 27 at 3pm, Rubén Blades, international icon, famed musician and composer from Panama, will speak with the curator of the National Museum of American History about Latin music, salsa and the intersection between Latin America and the US. The event, called 'In His Own Words' and sponsored in part by the Smithsonian Latino Center, will take place at the museum -- and, like all activities at the Smithsonian, the lecture is free.

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