By Norie Sakuma, Japanese House Tutor
Imagine our excitement: tens of thousands of visitors flock to the National Cherry Blossom Festival from every year from March 20th to April 16th. The spectacular array of cherry blossoms dazzles the eye then and enchants the soul, even when the weather is reluctant to release winter. And amid that crush of visitors, blossoms and traffic, 11 W&M students and I could be found, excitedly adding to the milieu by participating in the concurrent annual Shodo performance.
This amazing festival has been held in DC every year since 1927. It is intended to commemorate the March 27, 1912, gift of Japanese cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo City to the city of Washington, D.C. Mayor Ozaki donated the trees to enhance the growing friendship between the United States and Japan and also to celebrate the continued close relationship between the two nations.
What some visitors might not know or expect, however, is that the cherry blossoms must share the spotlight with all things Japanese during those 28 celebration days. With the Shodo festival, people can experience Japan at the same time as they enjoy the blooming trees. Myriad booths related to Japanese culture spring up for pedestrians to visit; these include such Japanese traditions as calligraphy, kimono and games. And many other stands are prepared to help you savor popular Japanese foods. Yakisoba, Takoyaki, cream puffs and other uniquely Japanese delights can be munched on while enjoying the city’s unique sights and sounds. In essence, you can travel to Japan via Washington without ever leaving the country or carrying a passport!
In addition to the foods and cultural experiences, you also can see many Japanese perform. For example, the entertainers may present a local dance from Okinawa prefectures, sing Japanese pop songs or demonstrate a sword battle.
Our contribution to the Shodo festival involved the students’ dancing to a poem and music of their own creation. They originated the theme, challenged their calligraphy skills to write the poem, chose and edited the music, and choreographed the dance. Our trip to DC was made possible in part by the generous support of the 3153 (“Saigo-san”) fund. My job was to participate in the poem’s development and support the students as they rehearsed.
Those 11 students worked incredibly hard. In addition to their normal school work and activities, they dedicated nearly two hours nightly to every detail of the performance. Their dedication and commitment showed through, however. On the day of the performance, beneath a clear sky, but with brisk winds, the performers performed twice to large and highly appreciative audiences.
I had the pleasure of snapping pictures and recording the performance. As I peered through the video screen, I was dazzled not only by their amazing performance but by their brilliant smiles, as well. Clearly, everyone appreciated their accomplishments.