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Cherry Blossom Festival Celebrates Spring's Arrival

Stacy M. Brown | 3/20/2014, 6:49 p.m.
Courtesy photo

It’s one of the rites of spring and considered the greatest of springtime celebrations in the nation.

Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the more than 100-year-old gift of Yoshino cherry trees from the mayor of Tokyo to the District of Columbia.

The festival, where officials said annual attendance surpasses 1.5 million, kicked off Thursday but, because of the brutal winter weather in D.C., peak bloom isn’t expected until between April 8 and April 12.

“We’re really excited to welcome spring with all of this winter weather,” said Danielle Davis, a spokeswoman for the festival, which runs through Sunday, April 13.

The festival parade is scheduled for Saturday, April 12, and will include several local singers who earned a place at the event after capturing the “Sing into Spring” competition held in January.

This year’s opening ceremony, held at the Warner Theater in Northwest, featured recording artist Judith Hill, a season four contestant on the hit television show, “The Voice,” and a backup singer to Motown legend Stevie Wonder and the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

It also included tango artist and Japanese native Anna Saeki, Okinawa pop singer Rimi Natsukawa, alto saxophonist Kaori Kobayashi and Julliard School scholarship award winner Takaoki Onishi.

Japan’s Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae and Mayor Vincent C. Gray, were scheduled to serve as narrators for the opening ceremony.

“This is to celebrate the arrival of spring, but the Cherry Blossoms also represents ephemeral beauty as well,” said Japanese Minister and festival spokesman Masato Otaka, who noted that times flies when you’re having fun.

“It will arrive and you can celebrate,” Otaka said. “But, it will go away very quickly, so make use of the time that we do have and enjoy the Cherry Blossom.”

Also helping to open the festival on Thursday was a Pink Tie Party fundraiser at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Northwest, where area businesses, organizations and individuals joined to help spread the “spirit of the festival by using bright pink blossom decals on cars, storefronts, windows and other items,” officials said.

Family Days, Cherry Blast: Art & Music Dance Party, the Blossom Kite Festival and the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival, are also highlights of the three week-long event, which the Washington Informer serves as a partner.

In total, more than 200 international and cultural performances will take place during nearly 100 events, which include the arts, exhibits, sports and culinary offerings.

“I usually take in a lot of the events, but mostly it’s just beautiful to see the trees,” said Cheryl Carpenter, a Southeast resident who noted that she now requests vacation time from her federal job to have more time to enjoy the festival.

“It’s a lot better to enjoy and have fun when you’re not rushed, so that’s why I decided that it would be a good time for a vacation,” said Carpenter, 44.

Festival organizers said it took the coordination of many participants to ensure the arrival of the first cherry trees in the early 1900s.