The five-acre Japan Center, at Post and Buchanan Streets, and the adjacent blocks of Japantown will be filled with exquisitely costumed performers and will echo with thunderous rhythms of huge taiko drums, ethereal strains of koto music, crackling of boards being splintered by martial artists, and the gentle sounds of tea ceremonies. And, wafting through and above this cultural banquet will be the delicious aromas emanating from the Festival’s community-sponsored food bazaar. Thousands of Japanese American performers and behind-the-scenes coordinators will take part in the celebration along with scores of participants who will be coming from Japan to join in staging the exhibits, demonstrations, and entertainments. Classical and folk dancers will perform both weekends. Experts in karate, kendo (a style of fencing with bamboo swords), aikido, and judo will demonstrate their skills, and collectors of samurai swords and armor will display their treasures.
There will be exhibits and demonstrations of ikebana (flower arranging), sumi-e (brush/ink painting), calligraphy, bonsai (tree dwarfing), origami, and doll-making. Also on the agenda are an arts and crafts fair featuring works with a Japanese theme, as well as activities planned especially for youngsters. Traditional Japanese music will fill the air at recitals spotlighting koto (harp-like instruments), shakuhachi (bamboo flutes), and shamisen (similar to a three-string banjo). There will be taiko and karaoke concerts, too, plus performances by several of the Bay Area’s most popular bands, which will add a contemporary “East meets West” dimension.
A two-hour Japanese-style parade will bring the Festival to a dazzling close on Sunday afternoon, April 22. Colorfully costumed dancers and musicians by the hundreds, modern-day samurai, floats, ladies in exquisite kimonos, taiko drummers, and scores of young men and women carrying mikoshi (portable shrines) will take part in this unique procession which begins at City Hall, Polk and McAllister Streets, at 1 p.m. and winds its way along a fifteen block route to Japantown.
Reigning over the entire celebration will be the 2012 Cherry Blossom Festival queen who will be chosen at a gala on Saturday evening, April 14. Throughout the Festival, the timeless significance of cherry blossoms (sakura) will be in mind. The blossoms, which stay on the trees for only a few days before the spring breezes carry them away, evoke the unsurpassed beauty of nature and the transience of life.
Everyone is invited to join in the festivities, which will be in full swing by 11 a.m. each day of the two-weekend celebration. Most events are free.