Hey Hey Heroes, Travelers, and Wandering NPCs, it’s been awhile since I wrote a decent post here on Nice Job Breaking It, Hero and the reason for that is I’ve been pursuing a lot of non-otome game pursuits. Yes, dear readers I’m afraid I haven’t been playing any games lately, but, I have been going out and exploring DC more, and surprisingly there are quite a few otaku and nerd friendly events going on around the Nation’s Capitol so I figured why not document some of my (mis)adventures around the city, and what better event to kick off this post series than the National Cherry Blossom Festival!
I’ve been living in the DMV area since 2009 and I’ve never actually gone down to see the Cherry Blossom trees, sure I’ve gone to the various Cherry Blossom events around the city and of course I’ve been the Sakura Matsuri, but when it came to the trees themselves, lets just say that the idea of wading through hordes of tourists just to look at trees, just never seemed all that appealing to me. But, this year I decided to channel my inner tourist by making the trek down to the DC Tidal Basin to get a gander at these cherry blossom trees and see if they were really worth all the hype (spoiler alert: they kinda are). But before I get into my Cherry Blossom adventure, here’s a brief history lesson about the Cherry Blossom trees and why the Cherry Blossom Festival is such a big deal here in the Washington, DC area!
The Gift of Trees: A (Very) Brief History Lesson About the Trees
Right, so many of you may be wondering how the hell Washington DC managed to get their hands on Japanese Cherry Blossom trees in the first place.
Well, the trees were given as a means of fostering a long-lasting friendship between the United States and Japan. Efforts to bring cherry blossom trees to Washington DC were originally planned as far back as 1885 by Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, who helmed early cherry blossom tree planting initiatives. However, it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the initiative really gained traction with the help of First Lady Helen Taft and Japanese chemist Jokichi Takamine.
In 1910, Tokyo donated 2000 cherry trees to be planted here in Washington DC, however when the original gift was received, it was discovered that the trees were diseased and they had to be burned upon arrival. A second donation of trees was made two years later in 1912 (3020 trees in total), which were planted along the Potomac River basin on March 27, 1912. Between 1913 and 1920 additional tree clippings were donated and planted along the Tidal Basin to supplement the existing trees.
In 1915, as a show of good faith the United States government reciprocated the gift by donating 3000 dogwood trees to be planted in Tokyo.
What Is the National Cherry Blossom Festival
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual three-week spring celebration held in Washington DC to commemorate the 1912 donation of Japanese Cherry Blossom trees and to celebrate the continued friendship between the U.S. and Japan. The festival usually takes place between mid/late March and early April during the trees’s peak bloom and is marked by a number of Japanese cultural events throughout the city. While the types of events vary from year to year, the Opening Ceremony, Family Day, Kite Day, and the Sakura Matsuri- Japanese Street Festival are all key events that take place each year.
My First Cherry Blossom Experience
Now that the “history” lesson is over, let’s get to the part you guys really want to hear about: my first ever Cherry Blossom viewing experience!! First, I should mention that I am allergic to tree, grass, and flower pollen, so I spend most of the spring and early summer months indoors doped up on allergy meds only going outside when absolutely necessary (read: for food)… So the fact that I took the time to journey from the comfort and safety of my home to surround myself with pollen spewing flowers on a Sunday (my rest day) because a friend asked me to, speaks volumes about how much I value that friend.
So, after I braved the tourist infested metro (trust me a literal Hell on earth) and I located my friend, we both came to the startling realization that we had absolutely no idea where we were supposed to go to actually see the cherry blossom trees. So, we did what anyone in that situation would do… we followed the hordes of tourists until we saw the pink tufts of the cherry blossom trees… I am not ashamed to admit that fact, but, in my defense at least they seemed to know where they were going.
DC is known for having some wonky weather this time of year, one year it snowed and all the blossoms died within a day of blooming. This year was no different, with bitter winter weather that lasted through early April, but, Mother Nature got it together just long enough to allow a few of the blossoms the chance to bloom. However, that meant that peak bloom was pushed back and not all of the trees were in bloom when I visited, but there were plenty of flowers to make the whole trip worth it! First, let me say that while the sky was a gloomy Gus, the trees were absolutely gorgeous and I apologize in advance for my crappy phone camera, because some of these pictures just don’t capture just how beautiful the trees were in person!
There are a total of 12 types of cherry blossoms scattered across the length of the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park, each blooming at different intervals throughout the year. But, like with most flowering plants, when these flowers bloom is wholly dependent upon the weather, so when I went the Kwanzan, Autumn Flowering, Usuzumi, Fugenzo, and Shirofugen were not in bloom yet, since they are usually the last to bloom and the weather was especially brutal this winter/spring. However the Yoshino, Taksimensis, Afterglow, Akebono, Sargen, and Okane were in full form!
Of course, while the trees are the main reasons folks make the trek down to the Tidal Basin each year, there are two rather interesting and often overlooked “monuments” nestled along the banks of the Potomac: The Japanese Lantern and the Japanese Pagoda.
The Japanese Lantern is a stone lantern located along the Tidal Basin near the site of the original 1912 cherry blossom gift trees. Though the lantern itself was originally created 1651 as a set to mark the death of Tokugawa Iemitsu. Both lanterns resided in the Tōshō-gū temple in Ueno Park for over 300 years, until they were donated to the United States in 1954 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Commodore Matthew Perry’s arrival in Japan, an event that marked the opening of trade routes between the United States and Japan. Each year the lighting of the lantern marks the start of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
The Japanese Pagoda is 17th century stone statue that was gifted to Washington DC in 1957 by Mayor Ryozo Hiranuma of Yokohama. Hilariously enough the statue was sent without any instructions on how to assemble it, so the staff of the Library of Congress had be called on to help reconstruct the statue based on archival images and photographs. Each segment of the pagoda represents one of the five elements (top to bottom: Sky, Wind, Fire, Water, Earth).
While we’re on the subject of non-tree related things, I should note that in addition to the trees, one of the National Cherry Blossom Festival sponsors, All Nippon Airways had a performance stage set up near the Tidal Basin Welcome Center where patrons could view “official” Cherry Blossom Festival performances. I was there around noon so I caught the tail end of some super cool Indonesian traditional dances (I can’t upload the video to WordPress, but you can view it on my Instagram account, HERE).
So, was it worth it?
I’m not one for flowers, or their delicate aesthetics, but, even an uncultured nerd such as myself can admit that the cherry blossoms were really pretty. Of course there were hordes of tourists milling about, and let’s not overlook the tourist souvenir money traps near the Welcome Center. But, the main attraction, the flowers, were really what this whole thing was all about.
Most people were content with just looking at the blossoms as they strolled along the Tidal Basin, while others sat beneath the trees enjoying the nice weather. There was a rather relaxed atmosphere surrounding the trees that I honestly wouldn’t have expected from one of the biggest spring tourist traps in the city. It’s a surprisingly organic experience, there are no loud vendors or music, you are literally out in nature surrounded by the splendor of the trees.
For some that might not be the most enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, but for me it was something I really needed after the hustle and bustle of my weekly routine, it was a chance to reconnect with nature, while also immersing myself in the rich history of my adoptive home (albeit a few years after the fact). So, at the end of the day, I’m glad I made the trip… now, whether or not I’ll make the trip again is another thing entirely, we’ll see how I feel next year.