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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Japanese culture in full bloom

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The festival celebrates Japanese culture (Photo courtesy of Katie White ’17).

Cherry Blossom Festival takes Philly into spring


All year long, the secluded gardens and greenhouse at Fairmount Park Horticulture Center offer a sanctuary in the middle of a bustling city. But for one weekend each April, the park comes to life to host an energetic festival packed with music and activities to celebrate Japanese culture.

The annual Subaru Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival kicked off its calendar of events on April 1 with a host of activities throughout Philadelphia, including sushi making classes at The HeadHouse and cultural demonstrations at Liberty Place Rotunda.

The festivities rounded out on April 9 with Sakura Sunday, an entire day devoted to honoring Japanese culture through music, food and art. For $15, festival attendees were given access to the scenic Horticultural Center and a range of cultural events running from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I started my Sunday afternoon at the festival just after the opening ceremony, and sake barrel breaking commenced. Joining festival-goers buzzing with excitement, I made my way through the gates and down the park’s central walkway toward the main stage.

The center of the walk featured a long, reflective fountain where families sat to take in the view of the park while enjoying meals from nearby food carts. The far end of a paved walk opened up to rows of tents selling fresh fruit, satay and bubble tea, as well as traditional fair food like funnel cakes and fried candy bars.

Sponsored by the Japan American Society of Greater Philadelphia, the Cherry Blossom Festival looks to celebrate aspects of both traditional and contemporary Japanese culture.  This was reflected in the artisans displaying crafts like traditional calligraphy prints and bright paper parasols, alongside vendors selling Japanese candies and stuffed animals. All around, crowds of people—some in cosplay for the afternoon’s upcoming showcase and others in Japanese-inspired robes—weaved in and out of the venues.

A walk past the first line of tents revealed a pathway leading down through the conservatory gardens and into Sakura Pavilion. There, I found Shofuso, a small, 17th century-style pagoda surrounded by a viewing garden, complete with a koi pond, a tea garden and a courtyard.

The Japanese house and gardens are Fairmount Park Horticulture Center’s most famous attraction. Throughout the year, it hosts various classes and exhibitions on Japanese culture, but on Sakura Sunday it was the setting for a tea demonstration. One woman in a kimono prepared a traditional tea ceremony while another explained each careful step. 

Meanwhile, local performers kept the energy up back toward the main tents. A drum and dance show performed by the Tamagawa Taiko dance troupe commanded the main stage, drawing crowds away from their picnic blankets and to their feet.

Additional musical performances took place throughout the day in a tucked-away section of the park called Little Akiba. There, a Harajuku fashion show and cosplay showcase represented some of the festival’s appreciation for modern Japanese culture.

With events hosted both indoors and outdoors aimed at traditionalists and pop culture fans alike, Sakura Sunday was a day filled with Japanese celebration that could appeal to anyone.

Still, there were many chances to simply sit and take in the view.

Away from the action, families and couples settled into shaded spots on the grass, enjoying a picnic lunch surrounded by blossom petals that fell from the trees lining each side of the park. With drum music still playing in the distance and the smells of katsu hanging in the air, they took the chance to appreciate a warm spring day and a taste of Japan, without ever having to leave the city of Philadelphia.

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