Details after the jump.
The cherry blossom is the national flower of Japan and throughout the spring families and friends gather for hanami, “flower viewing.” The practice of hanami can be traced back to the Nara Period (710-784). Each year the cherry blossom forecast issued by the Japan Weather Association is widely anticipated from Nagasaki to Hirosaki.
While San Francisco celebrates the season a few weeks later than is the custom in Japan, it is still a rich and honored local tradition. The 41st annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled for April 12-13 and April 19-20, 2008.
Always one of California’s most splendid celebrations, the festival draws more than 200,000 people to this dazzling display of Japanese culture. Most of the 90-plus events and activities are free and headquartered at the Japan Center, Post and Buchanan streets, in the heart of Japantown.
For two consecutive weekends, visitors can view artwork; Japanese textile displays; classical dance performances; martial art combat; elaborate ikebana/bonsai/suiseki exhibits; origami exhibits and demonstrations; tea ceremonies, and calligraphy. Local bands will be on stage both weekends at the Comcast Webster Street Stage, and the Kids Zone along Webster and Fillmore streets on the first weekend of the parade is always popular with chibi-chan (little children).
The real temptations, however, are to be found in the food bazaar on Webster Street where “almost like home” delights include sushi, takoyaki (tiny bits of octopus in a wheat flour dumpling), imagawayaki (cakes with sweet bean filling), teriburgers and, with a nod to the islands, Hawaiian rice plates and SPAM musubi.
The 2008 Cherry Blossom Queen Program will be held on Saturday, April 12, at the Sundance Kabuki Cinema, 1881 Post St., from 7 to 10 p.m.; doors open at 6 pm. General admission is $25. To secure tickets, call 650-871-9287; tickets will also be available on-site.
The Cherry Blossom Festival celebration reaches full bloom on Sunday, April 20 with the grand parade, which starts at 1 p.m from City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place. Proceeding north on Polk street to Post street, west on Post to the Japan Center, the parade features magnificently costumed dancers and musicians (traditional and contemporary); festival queens from other cities; floats; taiko drummers; scores of men and women carrying mikoshi (portable shrines). The grand finale consists of an undulating conga line bearing the taru mikoshi (sake barrel shrine).
For more information on the festival, contact the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival at 415-563-2313 or visit http://www.nccbf.org/ Public transit options include the 38 Geary, 2 Clement or 3 Jackson San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) buses from downtown San Francisco. For Muni information, call 511. There are two indoor parking garages in the Japan Center. Entrances are located on Geary between Laguna and Webster, Post between Webster and Laguna and also on Fillmore between Geary and Post. Details on shuttle service from nearby locations will be available on the Web site at a later date.
Even if one should happen to miss this double weekend Japanese confection, there is no reason to despair. Still ahead are the Asian Heritage Street Celebration, May 17, 2008; Nihonmachi Street Fair, Aug. 9-10, 2008 and Aki Matsuri (Fall Festival) in October.
Founded in 1906 San Francisco’s historic Japantown is the oldest of the three remaining in the United States. San Francisco’s ties across the Pacific also include a Sister City relationship, which is more than 50 years old with Osaka. It is one of the first Sister City relationships between the United States and Japan and is the oldest of San Francisco’s 14 Sister City relationships.