Seattle – Japanese Cherry Festival

In mid-April, and then for a couple of weeks, many of us look forward to the transformation cherry blossoms make to welcome Spring to the Pacific Northwest.

Seattle has a long and close association with Japan, so it is not surprising to find the oldest cultural festival at Seattle Center is this one.

Seattle is also the home to a gift in 1976 of 1,000 Japanese cherry trees, given by Prime Minister Miki on behalf of the Japanese people to the people of the United States, in celebration of America’s bi-centennial that year. And, Kobe, Japan is Seattle’s sister city.

In Seattle this next weekend, the Japanese community will share the 35th edition of this festival showcasing many of their cultural traditions. It will be held in different venues inside Seattle Center, Seattle Center House, Flag Pavilion / Fisher Pavilion.

The 2010 festival theme is “After 150 Years: Youth, Skateboarding and Hapa Experience,” and it celebrates the official ratification of the U.S.-Japan amity treaty.

Highlights this year include:
___ Photographic exhibit, “Scenes of Childhood: Sixty Years of Postwar Japan”

___ Skateboarding activities and demonstrations by Japan’s Pro-Teen Element team and star skateboarder Ryo Sejiri

___ Forum, “Hapa Experience,” exploring the identities, cultural traditions and experiences of Japanese mixed-race people, including many prominent local Hapa

___ Performance by Nanda, filled with stage combat, juggling and ninja-like acrobatics

This weekend, you will be able to watch a Go Tournament (and maybe get lessons). You’ll even be able to see Exhibits and Performances like the national Japanese skateboard champion and usually there are martial arts, too. In the past there were the booms of taiko drums and the silent beauty of ikebana flowers and these will probably be there again, too. Every event is a feast for the senses.

Experience delicious Japanese food, tea ceremony demonstrations and artwork (both a modern and ancient) all of which provides a diverse view of this complex culture. There are also planned childrens activities; in the past, there have been kite-making workshops and dressing-up in Kimonos, etc. Admission is free.

You will notice the cherry trees all over Seattle, but the 1,000 officially-gifted ones were planted in 1976 along Lake Washington Boulevard, in Seward Park and in a few other locations around the city. They build on a 1929 gift by local Japanese residents, who presented the city with 3,500 Japanese cherry trees. It is believed some of those trees are on the University of Washington campus.

All 100 species of cherry trees require a little more loving care than many trees do. A couple of years ago, a new push to add another 7,000 cherry trees began, especially as the gifted Yoshino species only has a life-time of about 80 years per tree (this is the same species as the famed trees in Washington, DC). These blossoms are amazing! It is an opportunity to learn how the Japanese approach nature.

In ecologically-concerned Seattle, as Earth Day approaches, it is important to acknowledge and learn from Japan’s ancient tradition, usually embodied in Shinto, whereby the Japanese have a long history of the idea, about how nature provides our living, and it is important to live stewardship this everyday. Caring for the trees and our Earth will keep these gifts from Nature around for future generations.

This community Festival is one of about 2 dozen Festals which Seattle Center sponsors throughout the year – from February to November. They hope to foster understanding and provide a sense of inclusion. Cultural celebrations highlight the common forms of tradition and expression among ethnic communities in the Pacific Northwest, while underscoring their unique creative contributions, customs, foods and ideals.

In addition to the Japanese one in April, there are earlier Festals for Vietnam and Ireland, then later ones for the Pacific communities and European and African communities as well as Asian, Latin, Arab and other community events. Seattle is a diverse and interested community.

Seattle Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival:
free, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday, April 16 – 18, 2010
Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St., Seattle
Seattle Center

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