The 100th anniversary of the planting of Japanese cherry trees on the Tidal Basin will be marked with a celebration of the trees’ origin, as well as solemn remembrances of the devastating earthquake and tsunami last year that ravaged Japan and provoked the meltdown of a nuclear power plant.
At a press conference Monday afternoon, Ichiro Fujisaki, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, said this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival will strike a balance between a century of springtime blooms with the mood of a country still recovering from one of the most devastating natural disasters in history.
“I agonized,” Fujisaki told reporters about last year’s festival, which came barely two weeks after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck March 11. “It was not a festive time.”
This year, with Japan “still on recovery road,” the ambassador continued, “What we want to do is: One, show we are recovering from this huge disaster, and second, show our gratefulness to the American people.”
To that end, and to simply mark the annual emergence of the cherry blossoms, which are expected to peak beginning March 22, this year’s festival includes several weeks of performances by some of Japan’s top entertainers. A spokesman for the Japanese Embassy told DCist Monday evening that the early bloom will not affect the schedule of events
The opening ceremony March 25 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center features Misia, Japan’s top-rated R&B singer; Hideki Togi, who performs gagaku-ancient royal court music-and whose family lineage in the style traces back to the eighth century; and the American singer Sara Bareilles.
Later during the festival, the embassy is bringing in members of a AKB 48, a J-Pop girl group whose fans vote on which singers take leading vocal roles based on daily performances at the group’s theater in Tokyo. An embassy spokesman explained to American reporters that only a fraction of AKB 48-which has more than 48 members-will be visiting Washington for a set of free shows March 26 at the Lincoln Theatre.
On a more solemn note, the embassy said, other events will be attended by earthquake and tsunami survivors from Fukushima Prefecture, the site of the nuclear power plant meltdown.
The Embassy of Japan, along with the National Park Service, also plans to use the Cherry Blossom Festival to get underway on a major expansion to the Japanese lantern area on the Tidal Basin, adding pathways and stone gardens to the grassy patch off Independence Avenue. The embassy will also be planting cherry trees in other U.S. cities later in the spring.