Do you know about San Francisco’s Nihonmachi? The other name is San Francisco’s Japantown. The most prominent feature in the neighborhood is Japan Center, a complex of shops and restaurants with a central, open air plaza. In 1968, San Francisco’s oldest Sister City, Osaka, Japan, donated a peace pagoda as a gesture of friendship and goodwill. Located in the plaza, the pagoda has become one of the City’s important landmarks.
For the 47th year, more than 200,000 people are expected to gather in the plaza near the pagoda this April to attend the annual “Cherry Blossom Festival.” The tradition of celebrating the profusion of cherry blossoms that bloom in Japan goes back hundreds of years. Cherry blossoms symbolize the beauty of life. Japanese-Americans will share their culture and traditions at the City’s festival that runs for two weekends. Here is a clip of some traditional art forms, Taiko drumming with a sampling of martial arts demonstrations:
The San Francisco Taiko Dojo started teaching students this ancient art form in 1968. Currently there are more than 200 students, ranging in age from 4-years-old to past 60-years-old. Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka explains the goal as, “The essence of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo is not only the skillful playing of percussion instruments, but also the discipline of mind and body, in the spirit of complete respect and unity among the drummers. It is also the ultimate challenge of reaching a point of unity of the drummers’ spirit with the drum.”
Another Japanese art form that will be presented at the festival is origami, paper folding. My friend Linda Tomoko Mihara is an origami artist and she will be teaching simple origami during this year’s festival. If you want to know more about her amazing art, here is a short clip of her talking about her art and a traveling museum exhibit of origami:
The other tradition that continues at the festival is the election of a Cherry Blossom Queen and her court. The festival was first produced in 1967 and the first court was chosen in 1968. The Northern California Queen Program oversees the selection of the court and organizes the court’s participation in community events to develop leadership skills in public speaking and volunteerism. Here is a video scrapbook of the 2009 court talking about their experiences:
The festival runs for one more weekend, April 19 and 20. For more information, here is the official Cherry Blossom Festival Web site for this year: