Thursday, April 7, 2016

Experience Japan without a Passport at Northern California's Cherry Blossom Festival

Taste freshly made imagawayaki, partake in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, move to the beat of the taiko drums and still make it home in time for dinner.  Experience the flavor of Japan as you open up your senses at this cultural festival.

The streets of San Francisco’s Japantown are gearing up for its 49th annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, one of the largest celebrations of this delicate bloom, outside of Washington D.C.  Although you probably will not see much of the blossoms in Japantown itself, the vibe this festival creates with performers from Japan and the U.S. creates a cultural experience that is sure to have you wondering why it took you so long to join in the festivities.  Spanning two weekends (April 9, 10, 16, 17), there is bound to be enough free entertainment to keep you occupied. 

The Peace Plaza Stage will be the host to taiko drumming, various martial art dojos, and dancing, all with the majestic five tiered concrete Peace Pagoda as its backdrop. 

In the past 48 years, the festival has expanded past the street booths and Peace Stage entertainment to be an all encompassing experience.  Previous year’s events have included a traditional tea ceremony and origami demonstrations held at the ballrooms at Hotel Kabuki while this year’s schedule has JCCCNC housing majority of the exhibits and demonstrations ranging from Washi Ninnyo (paper dolls) to bonsai to Shishu (Japanese Embroidery).  A complete schedule of events and parking information can be found on Northern California’s Cherry Blossom Festival’s Website  Due to the increased popularity of this event, arriving early to secure street parking or even a coveted spot in the paid garages is a must to avoid disappointment. 

All these activities are sure to build up an appetite and you will find the food booths are an event in itself.  Dishing up fresh ramen, chicken yakitori, takoyaki (fried mochi balls) and the ever so popular fresh imagawayaki, a Japanese dessert made right in front of you filled with sweet azuki red bean paste, you are bound to find many items to suit your taste.  Due to the long lines here, split up and line up at different booths to maximize your time and opportunity to try different things.  If you happen to attend the festival on one of the Saturdays, a stop at Benkyodo on Buchanan, one of the last family own businesses that still makes traditional handmade mochi is a must especially for their daily mochi special that can range from fresh strawberry, blueberry, mango, or fitting for the Cherry Blossom Festival, sakura (pickled sakura leaf on top of rice surrounding a red bean center).  Just make sure to get there early and bring cash. 

Just like the short lived cherry blossoms, all good things do come to an end and the festival is no exception, culminating in the Grand Parade on the 17th beginning at Civic Center and ending in Japantown. 



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