By Chi Onyeka
Cherry blossoms are trees that bloom once a year that were gifted to the U.S from Japan in 1910 as a symbol of friendship between the two countries. They (sadly) all died at first, because it was unknown how to take care of them, but later in 1912, more trees were gifted to the United States and were better taken care of. Now, in DC, we annually celebrate the blooming of the cherry blossoms in spring from their peaks until after the time their petals gracefully fall. There is another festival in DC dedicated to serve the same purpose, except organizations and different programs involved with Japanese culture get to gain awareness and if an organization gets lucky, someone might become a donor. There’s also other booths that are just for fun and music from J-Pop bands as well as traditional Japanese dances. This festival is called the Sakura Matsuri, which I had the pleasure to attend this year with Globalize DC.
I arrived at the festival around 7-8:30 in the morning with Ms. Sally and met two other students there. From there we set up and discussed about how we were going to address the wind issue since our tent activities were primarily paper-based whether it be coloring sheets or papers providing more information about the Japanese Plus program. We ultimately decided that we would use water bottles to set on top of the papers. Though it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, it was helpful even though at some times during the day the wind was so strong it knocked the bottles over and papers ended up flying anyway. Once we finished setting up the tent, we began to explore the festival before people were let in. Since 10:00 (when people started to enter the festival) until 2:00 (when my shift ended) I was primarily tasked to draw people to the tent, take a picture of people with puni puni, explain the meaning behind puni puni’s name and to provide more insight to people about our program. I’ve seen many interesting people in doing so, and the hardest part was coping with rejection, because a lot of people were blunt and said “No” off the bat, then others (the majority) said things like “I’ll come back later” or “Not right now” which was easier to accept.
Before the Sakura Matsuri, we spent a lot of time in class deciding what we were going to do for the children that happen to encounter our booth. My group had the idea of teaching participants five different types of sushi then playing a matching game and those who remembered the most types of sushi got a booklet with pictures of the sushi, the name in romanji, as well as the name in hiragana/katakana. When it came time to run the booth during the festival 90% of children were drawn to the coloring section and most people who came to participate in our activity were adults interested in our program. Many people were excited to receive the booklets, but I didn’t give out all that I made. When I finished running the sushi activity, my shift ended so it was time to go explore.
So, the first thing I did once I was free was to go see what music they were playing and it was really interesting how it wasn’t just traditional songs or J-Pop. There was dancing and we even played and interactive game with the host (It was pretty much “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in Japanese). Then I roamed around a little bit to see what other activities they had with friends. There were so many things that I wanted to buy I didn’t have the money for them because I made the horrible decision to blow $9 on ramune, leaving me with $2 left :(. There was also a Karuta booth. I had never played karuta before so I was rendered clueless throughout the whole thing asking things like “wait, what?” or “what do I do now?” pretty often. I beat two other people playing (surprisingly) and was up against a girl who spoke Japanese and read hiragana like lightning. I was kind of intimidated, but I was still optimistic. If you wanted to know, I got 2/10 cards and she got the rest. It was still surprising to me that I got similar to 2nd place, having never played Karuta before. It was fun. We also ventured to other booths where they had really cool things like optical illusions through mirrors and coloring! Excuse me, I really like coloring. I got a Ponyo mask and boy am I happy to have it! We also saw anime booths that had merchandise for one of my favorite animes but once again, I only had $2 so I sadly walked away from the anime booths.
It was high time to leave around 6:00 so on they way home I discussed the best encounters with people I made with my transit buddy. We talked about how useful the experience was in terms of exposure to Japanese culture as there were SO many activities to do regarding Japanese culture. We both loved it, both our time in the booth, and our time roaming elsewhere in the festival. If I had the opportunity next year, I would definitely clear my schedule to come again. As well as bring a lot more money next time.