By Genevieve Timpone, Broadside Correspondent
The National Cherry Blossom Festival wrapped up festivities on Sunday, April 11 after a two-week run.
According to the official National Cherry Blossom Festival website, each year Washington, D.C. holds the festival in order to commemorate the date of March 27, 1912, when a gift of 3,000 ornamental cherry trees was given to the city by Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki. In 1915, the United States responded in kind with a gift of dogwoods to the people of Japan. The purpose of these gifts was to establish greater kinship between the two countries. The festival has been held every year since, with a suspension only during World War II. Today there are 3,750 cherry trees, most of which are of the Yoshino species, the most popular variety in Japan.
This year, peak bloom occurred on March 31, close to the expected peak bloom date of April 1. The average bloom date is April 4, but unseasonably warm or cold weather conditions make it difficult to predict, with peak blooms sometimes occurring as early as March 15 (which was the case in 1990), or as late as April 18 (which happened in 1958).
National Park Service Agency horticulturalist Rob Defeo noted in The Washington Times that 2010 was the 10th year in a row that the trees were in bloom during the festival.
The Cherry Blossom Festival holds a host of events throughout the two weeks it runs, including a fireworks festival, a 10-mile run and the Lantern Lighting Ceremony. But the event that consistently draws the largest crowd is the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival.
The 50th Sakura Matsuri Street Festival was held on Saturday, April 10 this year, and covered six square blocks of downtown D.C. It is the largest one-day exhibition of Japanese culture in the United States. The event opens with a parade along Constitution Avenue and ends with the lively festival that features performances, vendors, beer and sake gardens and food stands.
Douglas Messier, a senior biology student at George Mason University said, “I have been going to the street festival most years since I was back in high school. The trees are beautiful, and the events are entertaining, but it’s really the food-tasting that brings me here.”
The Washington Post quoted Diana Mayhew, president of the festival, as saying that the fireworks doubled attendance along the southwest waterfront and Metro experienced its second-highest day of ridership, behind only the Obama inauguration.