STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
The 2015 Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia ushers in hopefully more spring-like conditions April 6-12.
Events are planned throughout the region — from Center City, Old City and Fairmount Park to the Main Line — bringing highlights of Japanese culture, including performances, time-honored arts and crafts, and the colorful contemporary cultures of cosplay and anime.
The festival is held in honor of the cultural link between Philly and Japan, especially the 1926 Japanese gift of 1,600 blooming cherry trees, which were planted in Fairmount Park. Although only a few of those original trees are still alive, the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia has ceremonially planted 1,000 more since the ‘90s on the banks of the Schuylkill River, West River Drive, Kelly Drive and other places.
The week-long festival, now in its 18th year, got underway April 6 with Japanese Culture Week at Liberty Place, 16th and Chestnut streets, Philadelphia. Each day of the week will offer a chance to experience a different Japanese passion at lunchtime, from ikebana flower arranging to Shogi (Japanese chess), origami, kimono dressing, calligraphy and Kamishibai story-telling.
The seven days of festivities builds to a grand finale with Sakura Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 12 at the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, with food, live music and dance performances, athletics, crafts, karaoke and other activities for all ages. Highlights also include a “Prettiest Pet in Pink” Parade for dogs, the Harajuku Fashion Show, tours of the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden and the Subaru Sushi Samurai of the Year contest. Sakura is the Japanese name for ornamental cherry blossoms. The center is at Montgomery Drive and Belmont Avenue, Philadelphia. Tickets are $10, free for children under 12.
Isn’t there something Japanese at the Art Museum too?
Coinciding with the dates of the Cherry Blossom Festival is “Ink and Gold: Art of the Kano” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has more than 120 works of art, including large-scale, gold leaf folding screens and sliding doors designed for the residences of Japan’s feudal ruling elite, plus ink paintings, hanging scrolls and folding fans.
What other events do I need to know about?
Dine Out Japan Restaurant Week is April 5-10, featuring special three-course menus. Lunch is $20 and dinner is $35. A list of participating restaurants and more details is at www.subarucherryblossom.org.
Sushi Making Classes 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 6-10 at The Headhouse, 122 Lombard St., Philadelphia. Classes are $50 each. Sign up with Madame Saito at (215) 922-1223 or visit www.headhousephilly.com.
Amateur Sushi Making Contest at 6:30 p.m. April 8 at the Tokio Headhouse, 124 Lombard St., Philadelphia. Non-contestants can enjoy hors d’oeuvres, sake, wine and craft beer. Participation in the contest is $25 and advance registration is required by calling (215) 922-2515.
Free film screening of “The Wind Rises” at 6:30 p.m. April 9 at the University of Pennsylvania, 3620 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
Kaiseki dinner at 7 p.m. April 10 at Margaret Kuo’s, 175 E. Lancaster Ave., Wayne. The traditional dinner includes more than five courses and a tea ceremony demonstration with context by Dr. Masako Hamada of Villanova University. Dinner is $50. Call (610) 688-7200 to make reservations.
The Morris Arboretum hosts a Japanese Cherry Blossom Celebration April 11 and 18. Around 100 years ago, the arboretum’s founders, John and Lydia Morris, established a notable collection of Japanese plants and gardens, and the arboretum has 35 varieties of cherry trees that bloom each spring. On the 11th the Pennsylvania Bonsai Society will be displaying trees and doing demonstrations of bonsai maintenance. Cherry Walks meet at the Garden Rail entrance at 10:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. The Hoh Daiko Drumming Crew performs at 10:30 a.m. and noon. Origami workshops for kids are offered at 1 and 2 p.m. Japanese Elements Tours will be held 2 to 3 p.m.; meet at Garden Rail entrance.
Activities on the 18th include: Cherry Walks meet at the Garden Rail entrance at 10:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.; a kimono dressing demonstration at 11 a.m.; a samurai arts demonstration by River of Life Martial Arts & Wellness Center at noon and 1 p.m. (weather-depending); a traditional Japanese tea demonstration at 1 p.m. in the Azalea Meadow (rain location is the Upper Gallery); Japanese Elements Tours will be held 2 to 3 p.m.
For more information, call (215) 247-5777 or visit www.morrisarboretum.org.
Cherry Blossom 10K/5K April 11 at the Horticultural Center in Fairmont Park. Registration opens 6:30 a.m. The course winds its way through the historic Centennial District, past Memorial Hall and Shofuso Japanese House and Garden. Registration for the 5K is $25, $30 on-site. Registration for the 10K is $30, $35 on-site. Visit www.subarucherryblossom.org/5k.
Sakura Under the Stars 6 to 8 p.m. April 11 at Union Trust, 717 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. The upscale reception requires cocktail attire and features Japanese-inspired cuisine, sushi and drinks. Tickets are $120 and can be purchased at www.subarucherryblossom.org.
Isn’t there something else at Shofuso Japanese House and Garden going on for the festival besides the tours during Sakura Sunday?
The traditional-style Japanese house in West Fairmount Park has been open for the 2015 season since March 28. You can take a tour and feed the koi fish under the budding 75-year-old weeping cherry tree through Oct. 31. On April 11, there’s a Nodate Cherry Blossom Tea Ceremony on the veranda under the weeping cherry tree at 1 and 2:30 p.m. Cost is $35. Shofuso is now accessible from the Avenue of the Republic, next door to the Please Touch Museum. See www.japanesehouse.org for more.
Tell me more about the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia.
Founded in 1994, the JASGP — which is comprised of individuals, corporations and organizations — is devoted to fostering relationships between America and Japan by promoting and encouraging better understanding of the business, cultural, social, educational and political practices and customs of the two nations.
Is there a phone number I can call for more information on the Cherry Blossom Festival events?
That’s (267) 348-0250.