For years I’ve been meaning to travel to Washington DC to see the cherry blossoms. For years, I have missed the opportunity. This year is going to be one of those years. Luckily, I was in Philadelphia this past weekend and spent my Sunday in Fairmount Park enjoying “Sakura Sunday“, the centerpiece event of the month-long annual Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia. Sakura is the Japanese cherry tree (over 200 varieties) however that word conjures the image of a bald headed man (sakora in Ghana).
It was quite fun to learn a little bit about Japan, its customs and cultures, and the significance of cherry blossoms. I never really associated Philadelphia with cherry blossoms before but now I know.
As Japan’s national flower, the cherry blossom deeply inspires literature, art, anime, and cuisine. It serves as an enduring metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life. The transience and fragility of the blooms and their quick demise reminds us that life, human life, is not everlasting. Hanami, the custom of taking time to enjoy a picnic under blooming sakura trees with families and friends in the brief couple weeks of their bloom reminds us to relish every breath we have and live life to the fullest.
The cherry blossom is often offered as a symbol of friendship by Japan to other countries. The City of Philadelphia received it’s gift of 1600 flowering trees in 1926 in honour of the 150th anniversary of American independence. The Japan American Society of Greater Philadelphia has planted at least a thousand additional trees in the past 15 years to honour this gift. In 2003 Subaru became main sponsor and the festival is a means to support the on-going tree planting project while celebrating spring.
The festival was great. It was a beautiful spring day and the cherry blossoms were out in all their glory. Even the myriad children up in their branches could not distract from their beauty. There were anime and manga enthusiasts of all ages, gender, and ethnicity all over the place. Those were some interesting costumes and hair colours. There were also several people in traditional Japanese kimonos.
I saw a demonstration of aikido, a Japanese self-defense martial art form I had never heard of before. But the highlight was the performance by the Tamagawa University Taiko & Dance group. They have been touring the world since 1961 and have won acclaims in the past.
They were awesome.
What?! More? Okay! The drums had a contagious energy that woke me up from my wee nap in the sun. It seriously sounded like “African drumming”. I know you don’t believe me, but it did. It was just thunderous – you know, that beat that just gets your hips moving unconsciously. I have never really attributed sounds like that to East Asia before. But the way they beat the drums was very fluid and elegant. Choreographed drumming! Just like the dancing. That I expected. Awesomeness.