More than a thousand of people walk back and forth between stages boasting live performances. Tents house a variety of activities and booths selling cultural items. Live music reverberates from one of the tents closer to the front. The smell of food wafts throughout the crowd.
This was the scene as the sun set over Nationals Park in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood April 8 for the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival.
The festival, the largest one-day celebration of Japanese culture and traditions in the United States, is the annual finale to the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
While the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood isn’t as open-air as the National Mall — another popular festival location in Washington — the venue housed the festival well. There was more than enough space to accommodate the food vendors, stages, shops and exhibition tents.
Attendees packed the festival’s grounds. Tents filled with Japanese horticulture, artwork and pop culture surrounded three different large areas. Some tents also included examples of Japanese scientific advancement, a children’s area, traditional Japanese games and even lessons in Japanese calligraphy.
On the exhibition stages, there was a performance of traditional Japanese sword martial arts, a cosplay fashion show and a meet and greet with the Cherry Blossom Queens and Princesses, among other things.
This doesn’t even include the food, with various vendors selling delicious meals and offering free samples; professional chefs gave live demonstrations on how to cook traditional Japanese meals.
As with any festival, there were some blemishes. Not everything was completely authentic, especially some of the pop culture items. There was also a McDonald’s tent, a glaringly obvious sign of globalization, and not something that is traditionally a part of Japanese culture.
Despite these issues, the festival still accomplished its goal. It provided people with a space to celebrate Japanese culture, and for those who are less familiar with it, a space to learn about Japanese culture in a productive way.