About the Festival
The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival is said to be the second largest festival outside of Washington, D.C. to celebrate the blooming of cherry blossoms; and held at one of three remaining Japantowns in the United States.
Every year we are joined by hundreds of performers from both Japan and California to give our thousands of spectators a taste of the Japanese culture.
The first Cherry Blossom Festival took place in April of 1967. It was a time of changes in our society. Young people throughout the United States left home to fight in the Vietnam War.
Here at home San Franciscans witnessed on-going rallies and demonstrations for both the war and civil rights. It was a time of new ethnic community awareness for groups such as the Japanese Americans.
The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival started as a great display of Japanese cultural heritage and pride. Community groups came together as a spirit of unity, some taking form for the first time in order to participate in the Festival. Throughout the 40 years, it has grown to encompass the many facets of the Japanese community.
Throughout the two weekends, the streets of Japantown becomes a live stage where you will have the opportunity to see Japanese dancing, singing, martial arts demonstrations, as well as taste traditional and nontraditional Japanese delicacies.
During these two weekends we encourage you to savor the taste, listen to the sounds and see the rich colors that make the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival unique. We thank the many volunteers that have committed their valuable time and effort to make this possible. Our deepest appreciation to our sponsors and community leaders for their support.
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 21. 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 2013 Cherry Blossom Festival queen who will be chosen at a gala on Saturday evening, April 13. 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.
Festival hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with some events performing later if necessary. Please check the Schedule of Events for complete update of times and events.
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.