Bathing in the Blossoms: Hanami in the U.S.
Daylight savings time has begun, and just seeing flowers blooming makes us feel that spring is all around us now. For Japanese people, it is hanami (flower-viewing) season. When people talk about “hanami”, the flower they mean is always sakura (cherry blossoms). Innumerable hanami events and sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festivals) take place nationwide in Japan. But even in the U.S. there are areas where we can enjoy sakura trees just like in Japan.
The most famous East Coast sakura are in Washington, D.C. In 1912, Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo donated 3,000 sakura trees to the city of Washington, D.C., and each year since 1927, the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the gift. This year, marking the 101st anniversary of the gift of trees, the festival takes place from March 20 to April 14, and it culminates with the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade on April 13, which is filled with cultural events, celebrity performances, marching bands from across the country, and elaborate floats. Most of the sakura trees in D.C. are the Somei Yoshino variety, which has five pale pink petals and is often described as having an ephemeral beauty. The trees are located around the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, in East Potomac Park (Hains Point), and on the grounds of the Washington Monument. According to the National Park Service, this year’s peak bloom (defined as when 70% of the blossoms are open) will be from March 26 to 30.
In Philadelphia, the first sakura was planted in 1926 as a gift from the Japanese government to recognize 150 years of American independence, but most of the trees admired today are the ones planted by the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia since 1998. More then 1,000 sakura trees of various types can be seen in the City of Brotherly Love, and the majority of them are found along the Schuylkill River and in Fairmont Park. The Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival 2013 will take place from April 1 to 26, offering numerous Japanese cultural events, food tastings, workshops, and demonstrations. The main event, Sakura Sunday, will be on April 14 with a kickoff Cherry Blossom 5K run.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden must be the most accessible hanami spot for New Yorkers. Hundreds of sakura trees of different varieties bloom at different times, encompassing five weeks starting in late March. The signature types in the BBG are Kanzan and Pendula. The former has gorgeous, double pink blossoms in hanging clusters of two to five flowers each. The Cherry Walk and Esplanade is the perfect place to enjoy this opulent beauty. The CherryWatch Bossom Status Map on the BBG website gives the blooming time for each variety. The BBG’s Sakura Matsuri will be held April 27 to 28.
National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.
Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival in Philadelphia
Sakura Matsuri in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Other Sakura-Viewing Locations
Sakura Park in Riverside Park
Residents on the Upper West Side have enjoyed sakura trees for a century in this monumental park located on West 122nd Street and Riverside Drive, between Riverside Church and International House. In 1912, Japan delivered more than 2,000 sakura trees to the U.S. to celebrate the friendship shared by the two countries, and they were planted in Central Park and Riverside Park. Sakura Park is the original location where the trees were planted. More sakura trees can be seen along the path between 100th and 125th Streets in Riverside Park.
Central Park is a great place to view sakura and have a picnic. There are several good spots in the park, but some of the best ones are the Bridle Path at 90th Street, East Drive at 66th Street, the east side of the Boathouse at 74th Street, and Cherry Hill, which is mid-park at 72nd Street, west of Bethesda Terrace.
Sakura flowers bloom on Roosevelt Island as well. The trees planted along the riverbank have the extravagant Manhattan skyline as their backdrop. Looking across the river to Manhattan, Roosevelt Island’s sakura walk provides magnificent photo opportunities.
Branch Brook Park
Branch Brook Park, in New Jersey, has more than 2,700 sakura trees. The park that runs through Belleville and Newark first adopted sakura in 1927, when Caroline Bamberger Fuld donated 2,000 sakura trees to the Essex County Park System in memory of her late husband. During the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, the trees burst into full bloom, and thousands of visitors are awed by the beautiful colors of pink and white each year.