Washington steps into spring with annual cherry blossom festival

JIJI

The official opening ceremony for the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington on Saturday drew a crowd of some 2,000 people to the capital’s tree-lined Potomac River, where events to highlight Japanese culture are slated to run for about three weeks.

About 1.5 million people are expected to attend the festival, which kicked off Thursday and will last until April 13.

Japanese singer Rimi Natsukawa and American singer Judith Hill performed at Saturday’s ceremony, where Japanese Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae joked that he was likely the only person happy to see traffic jams during the cherry blossom season.

Sasae said he hopes all visitors will be able to enjoy the beauty of the cherry blossoms, as well as Japanese culture.

The annual festival is held to commemorate a gift of some 3,000 cherry trees in 1912 from Tokyo to Washington.

The trees were planted along the Potomac River, with the first cherry blossom festival held in 1927.

After World War II, the city started holding the festival every year, where the 3,770 or so cherry trees serve as a symbol of Japan-U.S. friendship.

This year, the blossoms are expected to peak on or after April 8, later than usual due to unseasonably cold weather, with forecasts saying Washington may see snow during the festival period.