sakura sunday

Four years ago in Japan, I was able to attend O-hanami - the traditional cherry blossom viewing that takes place in the first two weeks of April. We took a short bus ride from my in-laws house in Hachioji to a small park. My wife told me that many of the booths were manned by yakuza members but they were fairly polite enough that I wouldn't have noticed if she didn't tell me. Anyway, it was a memorable experience and wonderful way to usher in the arrival of spring. Fortunately for us, Philadelphia offers their own Cherry Blossom Festival, a wonderful celebration of Japanese culture within the blooming pink landscapes of Fairmount Park. 1000 cherry trees were planted in the spring of 2007, adding to the original 1,600 trees donated by the Japanese government in 1926. We set a red checkered blanket underneath one of the delicate cherry trees and spread out our sandwiches, salads and fruits for a nice picnic near the main festivity stage.

People watching was entertaining in itself. We shared a shuttle bus ride with a group of caucasian cosplay (short for costume play) fanatics. This group of girls and guys elaborately dressed up as colorful Japanese animation characters and surely attracted a lot of attention from passing cars. They mentioned that they attend different anime, manga and gaming conventions across the country in addition to cultural festivals. Once we arrived at the festival, we noticed many other cosplayers representing their otaku obsessions, including a plump middle aged man trudging around the park as a blond pig-tailed girl in a baby blue maid uniform. Disturbing but memorable. The rest of the crowd was diverse with a peppering of pretty interracial couples, martial arts masters, and cool hunters clad in Harajuku Lovers, BAPE, Evisu alongside traditional Japanese people in kimonos. It was certainly encouraging to see all types of people interested in Japanese culture.

Although we missed a martial arts demo and Mayor Nutter's key note, we managed to catch the Tamagawa Taiko Drum and Dance during our picnic. The group featured 20 teenage Japanese girls and boys. Although it was a chilly day, the shirtless guys pounded beats to get the crowd's collective heads bobbing to their rhythm. The girls danced in bright flowery kimonos while shaking various percussion batons. They added some modern hip-hoppish twists to the traditional performance including some freestyle worthy string instrumentation which accompanied their breakbeats.

Afterwards we strolled along the main concourse between towering rows of cherry blossoms, stopping to sample some traditional Japanese pastries and green tea cookies. Little kids crowded the calligraphy, origami, and kite-flying booths until they managed to scurry away with their souvenirs. We witnessed traditional tea ceremony curiously narrated by a white lady but demonstrated by an elderly Japanese lady playing the host and a white man of the same age playing the guest. She elegantly expressed the meaning and precision of each movement as she served the tea. My wife was impressed by the white man's respectful tone and his perfect robe attire - leading her to theorize that he was married to the Japanese lady. While carefully focusing on their harmonious movements, I felt transported to a different, more tranquil setting - a similar feeling to when you get lost in a book and travel to a time and place determined by the author. And its a similar sense of peace that we both found earlier as we sat watching the delicate petals falling from the cherry blossom trees. Its really therapeutic - disconnecting from the technologically enslaved workweek and reconnecting with nature and culture. Now if only we could bottle this feeling and reopen it when needed - like Monday morning!


Cassandra said...

Rally for Fairmount Park - tomorrow at 12 noon in front of City Hall.

Mayor Nutter has proposed $3 million in increased funding for the Park this year. Come out and let Council know you support the Park and the Mayor.

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