Cherry-blossom watching is a national obsession in Japan, with blossom forecasts given on the evening news along with the weather, and dedicated blossom-watchers following the “bloom line” from south to north throughout the season. Cherry blossoms have deep cultural significance in Japan, and Japanese people have been picnicking and enjoying music and saké beneath them for nearly two millennia. And it’s no wonder why: spending a day beneath these blossoms is a beautiful way to greet a fresh, new spring and to usher in a season of renewal and love.
Happily, we don’t have to endure a long-haul flight to Japan to enjoy this tradition. Certain cities in the US are known for their cherry blossoms, as well as their lively cherry blossom festivals. If the coming of spring is making you itch for a short getaway, consider a festival in your corner of the country.
Washington Cherry Blossom Festival—Washington, DC
Dates: March 20–April 12
Bloom Watch: nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/about/bloom-watch/
Highlights: Exactly 113 years ago, the then-mayor of Tokyo gifted 3,000 cherry trees to the city of Washington, DC. Today, these trees form the backdrop to America’s biggest cherry blossom festival. This three-week-long extravaganza is jam-packed with events that celebrate Japanese culture, like classical and contemporary Japanese concerts, exhibitions of Japanese art, and even classes on how to make Okinawan cloth.
When you’ve gotten your cultural fix, take a quiet walk through the trees or rent a paddleboat to view the trees from a nearby lake—don’t forget to bring a bottle of saké. And if you’re in the mood for a picnic, swing by the National Building Museum on March 21, where a public picnic will be held in the Great Hall of the National Building Museum. It’s a fantastic way to experience this stunning building and enjoy the camaraderie of this joyful season.
Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival—Conyers, Georgia
Dates: March 20–21
Highlights: This small town in northern Georgia hosts a cherry blossom festival with a Southern drawl. Rock out to Southern music on multiple stages, shop at the hundreds of arts and crafts booths, and snack on international food as well as all-American festival favorites like hot dogs and funnel cakes. If you show up wearing the festival colors (pink and green), you may be spotted by a secret judge and chosen as one of the festival’s “best dressed”—a designation that would win you a bundle of prizes.
International Cherry Blossom Festival—Macon, Georgia
Dates: March 20–29
Highlights: Every spring, a mind-boggling 300,000 cherry trees blossom in Macon, Georgia, transforming this small city into a flower-lover’s paradise on earth. This festival gives only a passing nod to its Japanese roots, instead throwing a big Southern-style bash over ten action-packed days. Drive into town and you’ll be greeted bratwurst- and beer-tasting events, an equestrian show, amusement rides, a classic car cruise-in, rock concerts, and even a few pancake breakfasts. All this underneath what’s possibly the most impressive cherry blossom canopy in the nation.
Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival—Philadelphia, PA
Dates: April 1–12
Highlights: Philadelphia is no slouch in the tree department, either. In 1924, the Japanese government gave Philadelphia 1,600 flowering trees, and in the last decade and a half, the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia has planted 1,000 more. Fittingly, the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival is a two-week celebration of Japanese art, food, music, and culture. Dive into it with live music and dance performances, martial arts demonstrations, traditional flower arranging lessons, tea ceremony classes, Japanese movies, and traditional arts and crafts. You can even get the chance to try on kimonos for a one-of-a-kind photo beneath the blooms.
Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival—San Francisco, CA
Dates: April 11–12, 18–19
Highlights: America’s second-largest cherry blossom festival has a truly unique location: one of only three remaining Japantowns in the US. San Francisco’s Japantown was heavily settled by people of Japanese descent after the great earthquake in 1906, and today it’s a little slice of Tokyo in America, with its bathhouses, sushi restaurants, and shops selling everything from traditional incense to samurai swords. The festival features a grand parade and hundreds of performers, and draws in about 200,000 visitors from the city and beyond.
Seattle Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival—Seattle, WA
Dates: April 24–26
Highlights: Seattle’s cherry blossom trees date to the American bicentennial, when the prime minister of Japan sent 1,000 of them to the Northwest’s biggest city. Every year this gift is celebrated with a Japanese cultural festival at the Seattle Center, which hosts live performances, hands-on activities, and demonstrations by artists and artisans. Learn how to fold origami, create paper cutouts, or even try your hand at brush calligraphy—it’ll make a unique souvenir to bring back home.
Sakura Matsuri Festival, Brooklyn Botanic Garden—New York, NY
Dates: April 25–April 26
Bloom Watch: bbg.org/discover/cherries
Highlights: The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is reason enough to visit to New York, but cherry blossom season really sweetens the deal. If you’ve ever wanted to watch sword fighting, taiko drumming, and kabuki dance beneath falling cherry blossoms while snacking on traditional Japanese sweets, the BBG is the place to be. And while you’re there, don’t forget to swing by the bonsai museum. This collection of 350 bonsai trees, considered one of the best in the world, profoundly illustrates the importance of nature in traditional Japanese art, and it’s sure to give you a new appreciation of the fluid, natural brushstrokes in Japanese painting.
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