National Cherry Blossom Festival begins Thursday

After a harsh winter with far too many snow days, D.C. opens its arms to spring this Thursday with the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, which commemorates Japan’s first gift of cherry blossom trees, or sakura, to the city of Washington in 1912.

First held in 1935 by numerous civic groups, the festival was first expanded to two weeks in 1994 and later to five weeks in 2012. This year’s festival, which continues through Apr. 13, promises plenty of warm fun and entertainment at the Tidal Basin and the National Mall.

Vox recommends that you check out downtown D.C.’s cherry blossoms, the festival’s raison d’être, which you can check out via live webcam here (apparently anything of nature that is remotely famous in D.C. gets a live webcam).

Bringing the cherry trees from Japan to D.C. was a long and difficult process throughout history. Eliza Scidmore, the National Geographic Society’s first female board member, lobbied for 24 years without success for the trees beginning in 1885. The first 2,000 cherry trees gifted from Japan in 1909 were diseased and had to be destroyed. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942, anonymous vandals cut down four cherry trees, which were subsequently referred to as “Oriental” cherry trees during WWII.

The National Park Service currently estimates that they will be in “peak bloom” from April 8 to 12, which means that around 70 percent of the blossoms will be open. Rain and wind can easily blow these elusive beauties off the trees and bring an abrupt end to the bloom.

Here are some highlights from the upcoming omatsuri:

  • Kite Festival: Many spectators come to view the kite-flying and kite-making competitions and demonstrations, which will happen on Mar. 29 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the grounds of the Washington Monument. Registration to enter the kite festival’s many activities is free.
  • Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival: Enjoy free music, food trucks, fire boats and cultural activities all afternoon on Apr. 5 around Seventh and Water streets SW and enjoy fireworks on the Washington Channel at 8:30 p.m. The nearest Metro stop is L’Enfant Plaza on the Orange, Blue, Yellow, and Green lines.
  • Tidal Basin Paddle Boats: From Mar. 20 to Apr. 13, rent a paddle boat online to view the Jefferson Memorial and the cherry trees from the water and soak in the spring sun. You can also make a reservation in-person at the Tidal Basin Boathouse at 1501 Maine Avenue, SW. Rentals are $14 per hour for 2-person boats and $22 per hour for 4-person boats,
  • Cherry Blossom Festival Parade: From 10 a.m. to noon on Apr. 12, marching bands, floats and singers march down Constitutional Avenue in one of D.C.’s biggest annual parades. Grandstand seats cost $20 and can be purchased online, but standing along the parade route between 9th and 15th streets is free. Get there early to get a good spot: the nearest Metro stop is Federal Triangle on the Blue and Orange lines, and it’s going to be packed.
  • The 54th Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival: Organized by the Japanese-America Society of Washington D.C., the cultural festival, located on 12th Street & Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, is one of the largest in the United States, is jam-packed with food, Japanese merchandise, martial arts demonstrations, and live cultural and J-Pop performances. Tickets cost $10 for adults and are discounted for a limited time when purchased online. The street festival runs on the same day as the parade from 10:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The nearest Metro stop is Federal Triangle on the Blue and Orange lines.

Photo: Chase McAlpine via flickr

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