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The National Cherry Blossom Festival

Selection is based on attitude, spirit, and energy; and passion for the festival and for the community.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival comes once a year to D.C., coloring the entire city pink for four weekends starting in mid-March and lasting until mid-April. The duration of the event is specifically chosen at the beginning of March when peak bloom date estimates are made in order to maximize the allure and charm of D.C.’s the landscape during spring.

A tradition to commemorate the generosity of the gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees given by Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo in 1912, the festival started as a one day celebration that has blossomed into a several week occasion, drawing in the entire D.C. area in celebration. According to the National Cherry Blossom website, the gift symbolizes a lasting friendship between the United States and Japan. Top Japanese and American officials attend the event annually. Notable officials last year included: Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae and Mrs. Kenichiro, along with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

For many years, the festival has been more than a symbolic display. It now boasts over sixty events, the parade being the most anticipated and attended. This year, celebrity artists such as the cast of Arrested Development, country singer Ty Herndon, two past contestants from the acclaimed show: The Voice (Billy Gilman and Sarah Potenza), as well as Well Strung - a widely praised singing string quartet - will hold the stage. To heighten the mood, extreme pogo stunt team XPOGO, who has worked with over 60 name brand companies such as Disney, Apple, and Facebook, will perform. All the while, giant helium balloons of Peppa Pig and Smurfette will float down 7th to 17th St. NW. Last year’s parade had over 150,000 attendees and amassed 149,000 viewers on Facebook live. Similarly, a shortened version was streamed on televisions across the United States and took over 87% of television markets.

Other notable events include: The Blossom Kite exhibition, where people from all over the world come together under a stunning sea of kites; the Grand Ball which includes a dinner, with top officials from both the United States and Japan, and the crowning of one of the contestants - each representing a state - as “Blossom Queen following the random spin of a wheel; the SAAM Cherry Blossom Festival, an educational event which includes music and face painting, hosted by the Smithsonian; various cruises; and even a guided meditation practice at the National Building Museum.

Because the festival is a D.C.-wide extravaganza, the organization collaborates with several community restaurants. The list of “Cherry Pick” restaurants is available on the official website of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

In addition to all of this, each year the festival allows interested artists to submit portfolios in hopes of being chosen to create the official artwork for the event. The chosen artist for 2018 is Maggie O’Neill. She is a fine artist who is best known for her pop-impressionistic paintings.

For those who wish to be involved, the festival not only has professionals overseeing the events, young people from around the area have a chance to be involved. Each year the coordinators of the festival choose a group of young adults to be the Goodwill Ambassadors of the event. The National Cherry Blossom festival selection is based on attitude, spirit, and energy; and passion for the festival and for the community. They have to fill out an application to apply and, later on, go through an interview process. These individuals’ jobs include: planning major events, fundraising for the festival, and interacting with those who attend.

One of these individuals, Renee Gao (COL ’21) will serve as an ambassador for the event. She has met with the rest of the team since the beginning of this semester to coordinate events and discuss strategies for fundraising. Renee is one of the coordinators for the Petalpalooza event (formerly named The Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Event) which is one of the last events of the festival. Located at and hosted by the Wharf, the festival will feature stalls lined up throughout the area consisting of games for children and adults alike, an open concert with live music, a refreshing beer garden, and a dazzling fireworks display to end the night.

Renee is most excited for the parade and Petalpalooza because she has seen the main coordinator of the festival, her supervisor, work tirelessly to create new events and make the parade special. “With the 3,700 blossom trees blossoming, and the performers strolling in floats down the road, I think it will be a truly memorable scene,” Gao said. She also expressed her appreciation for the internship and how it will be something that she will truly remember. Gao wants people to know that the festival is more than just a fun event: “It feels like it’s mainly a Japanese cultural event but it has truly transcended these boundaries and has come to not only signify US-Japan relations, but has become a platform for educating people about different cultural customs.”

PC: Renee Gao

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