The San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival and Parade has been held in Japantown since 1967. The blooming of cherry trees in Japan announces the arrival of spring where the short lived blossoms are an inspiration to take time out to appreciate life. Friends and co-workers gather beneath the blossoms for picnics and ohanami suru, or cherry blossom viewing, and to contemplate the cycle of the seasons. San Francisco’s Cherry Blossom Festival has more in common with the many other US Cherry Blossom Festivals. Japanese-American community pride and/or a reaffirmation of friendship among sister cities in the US and Japan is more evident in the many annual Cherry Blossom Festivals in San Francisco and other American cities. US Cherry Blossom Festivals often began with a gift of cherry trees from a group in Japan to the US community, such as is the case with the festival held each spring in our nations capital.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival, for instance, is an annual celebration of the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the citizens of Tokyo to the citizens of Washington, D.C. Lady Bird Johnson accepted 3,800 more trees from the Japanese government in 1965. Japanese horticulturists were able to come to the US to take cuttings from the trees they had given us after floods destroyed many of Japan’s Yoshino cherry trees in 1981.
The Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco started as a community event in specific reaction to the redevelopment of Japantown in the 1960s. When run-down Victorian residences were razed and replaced by modern glass and steel structures the festival formed in order to keep the community in touch with its roots. Most cherry blossom festivals are carefully timed to attempt to coincide with the brief period of time that cherry blossoms are in bloom each spring though the long lead time required for these major events and inconsistent weather means that sometimes the festival does not happen during the peak bloom.
Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival
The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, as the San Francisco JapanTown celebration is known, takes place during two weekends in April in and around Peace Plaza and across Post Street on Buchanan Street. Traditional Japanese arts are showcased with demonstrations of martial arts, dancing, fashion, tea ceremonies and bonsai exhibits. There are also Asian food kiosks and Asian oriented street vendor booths like Kanji calligraphy scrolls, Japanese art and flowers.
Taiko drumming was traditionally reserved for ritual occasions in Japan and was not part of the cherry blossom festival. San Francisco’s Cherry Blossom Festival has become a celebration of all forms of Japanese culture and taiko drumming plays a large part in the main event of the festival.
Cherry Blossom Festival Parade
Parades and pageants to choose festival royalty are both American additions to the traditional cherry blossom festival.
San Francisco’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival parade begins at the Civic Center and ends after passing through Japantown on Post Street.
The parade usually includes several beautiful kimono clad dance groups — each typically including a range in age from grandmother to granddaughter — scout troops, bands, schools groups, cars carrying various politicians and floats for past, present and visiting festival royalty in addition to several Taiko drum troop floats.
Anime Costume Competition and Parade
A large Anime Costume contingent in the parade reflects one of the more modern aspects of Japanese culture. See more Anime Costume / Cosplay pictures from the 2004 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival and parade including many individual costumes.
More Cherry Blossom Festivals
Other cities with annual Cherry Blossom Festivals include Honolulu, Hawaii which has celebrated the Cherry Blossom Festival for over fifty years, Macon, Georgia, which claims over 275,000 Yoshino cherry trees in bloom and New York’s Brooklyn Botanic Garden with 42 species and varieties of cherry trees. The Los Angeles Nisei Week Festival has been around for more than 65 years. Pasadena, California celebrated its first cherry blossom festival in 2002. Seattle, Washington’s Cherry Blossom Festival began when one thousand Cherry trees were sent there by the Japanese government. English language web sites covering some cherry blossom festivals in Japan (Sakura) include Hirosaki City and Okinawa.