The San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival is said to be the second largest festival to celebrate the annual blooming of the cherry blossoms and held at one of three remaining Japantowns in the United States. Every year hundreds of performers from both Japan and California arrive to give our thousands of spectators a taste of Japanese culture.
The first Cherry BlossomFestival took place in April of 1967. It was a time of changes in our society. Here at home San Franciscans witnessed continuous rallies and demonstrations for both the war and civil rights. It was a time of new ethnic community awareness for groups such as the Japanese Americans.
The Cherry Blossom Festival started as a great display of Japanese cultural heritage and pride. Community groups came together as a spirit of unity, some taking form for the first time in order to participate in the Festival. Throughout the 40 years, it has grown to encompass the many facets of the Japanese community. Throughout the two weekends, the streets of Japantown become a live stage where you will have the opportunity to see Japanese dancing, singing, martial arts demonstrations, as well as taste traditional and nontraditional Japanese delicacies.
The Festival today
The Japan Center, at Post and Buchanan Streets, and the adjacent blocks of Japantown become filled with exquisitely costumed performers and will echo with thunderous rhythms of huge taiko drums, ethereal strains of koto music, crackling of boards being splintered by martial artists, and the gentle sounds of tea ceremonies. And, wafting through and above this cultural banquet will be the delicious aromas emanating from the Festival’s community-sponsored food bazaar.
Thousands of Japanese American performers and behind-the-scenes coordinators will take part in the celebration along with scores of participants who will be coming from Japan to join in staging the exhibits, demonstrations, and entertainments. Classical and folk dancers perform both weekends. Experts in karate, kendo (a style of fencing with bamboo swords), aikido, and judo will demonstrate their skills, and collectors of samurai swords and armor will display their treasures.
Everyone is invited to join in the festivities, which will be in full swing by 11 a.m. each day of the two-weekend celebration. Most events are free.