My Time at the Sakura Matsuri

By Elena Encarnacion

On April 13th, I had the pleasure of attending the Sakura Matsuri with the rest of my classmates. I was excited since I’d never been to the festival and had no idea what to expect. My shift began at noon, so I got to the booth around two minutes prior to that. Things were relatively easy once Sally explained what exactly was going on. I started off by running the “Learn to write your name in Katakana” part of the booth. It was simple and fun, but I occasionally had to check with Eshita sensei when I was unsure about whether or not a name had a long vowel.

As the day progressed and less people came to that side, I eventually moved over to the side where people were working on the quilt. We decided to create a quilt and have everyone draw something on a square using the prompt “Japan in my ❤️”. Watching people create these was my favorite part of the booth because everyone seemed so passionate about it. There were people that sat drawing for over 45 minutes! This activity became so popular that we eventually had to use both of the side tables for the quilt activity. It was nice to see everyone pour their love/appreciation for Japan into beautiful art pieces. Even little kids participated!

Once my first shift ended at 2PM, I met up with a friend who was also at the festival. We walked down to get some food (we had chicken on a stick, funnel cake, and I had a manga lemonade). The food area of the market was packed and most places had a long line. The food was delicious, but having to be on our feet for a while made us tired. We walked back to the Globalize DC booth and ate while chatting.

Once it hit 4PM, I was ready for my last shift. This shift was a lot more tame compared to my first one. We had less people coming, so I actually sat down for a while. As people came over and listened to what Japanese programs we offered, I was surprised at how many people were interested, but knew students that didn’t fit the age group. It’d be nice if there was also a program for younger students to learn Japanese. At the end of my shift, we started packing everything up as well as stacking up the tables and chairs. Since we were done, this was our time to relax and talk with some of our classmates about how our days went. Everyone seemed to enjoy their time at the festival, myself included. I look forward to attending it again some day 🌸.

Reflections of the Sakura Matsuri

By Asa Marshall

On Saturday, April 13th, I woke up super early anticipating the events of the day. It was the long awaited Cherry Blossom Street Festival in Washington D.C. I rushed over with Katie to 7th Street on this hot and hazy day. The festival didn’t start yet and after alerting the others to our arrival, we decided to explore and find our way around before it got crowded.

I was amazed at how big the festival would be and it was my first time after years of wanting to go. I was excited to eat and buy cool stuff, but I was also excited to help out at our booth we had at the festival. I worked two double shifts and it felt like they would never end, but it was shocking to see the crowds pour in. So many different faces, people from all around the world. The rush of trying to get people over to our booth was almost overwhelming, but after a few tries I was more motivated and confident to go up to people and tell them about our program. Also, seeing the many people that volunteered to participate in our video and quilt project made me really happy to see what passions others had for Japan.

It was an amazing day and I am already super pumped to go again. Hopefully the next time I go, I will be a lot more prepared for facing the crowds! I learned a lot about my own self confidence and the motivations of others and I wouldn’t ever regret that experience.

Tomodachi Means Friend

By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

I’ve never really been someone who thinks that school relationships can exist outside of school. It’s just for me, I don’t truly see how people can interact with each other outside of school. It is small-minded of me to say that but I have become accustomed to schedules that don’t involve things like hanging out with friends.

However, at the Sakura Matsuri, friends were what made it the most memorable. I invited some of my school friends to the festival since I was working a booth, but I didn’t really expect them to interact with me at all. I was shocked when they told me that they were waiting by my booth. It was fun to watch them attempt to draw for our community quilt.

After meeting up, we roamed the anime section of the festival. I bought a button and my friend bought the opposite of me. Food was shared and even when I had to get back to my shift, they waited for me and we all went home together.

Also, at the booth, my Japanese class friends made it more lively. Joking while trying to draw the crowd in with our cute mascot. All in all, for my first festival experience, I loved it.

Sakura Matsuri Experience

By Kenny Nguyen

The Sakura Matsuri is the Cherry Blossom Festival’s Street Festival that happens every year to celebrate the cherry blossom blooming and where everybody from different programs sets up booths to help sponsor awareness. I never knew that we had a Sakura Matsuri, because whenever someone says cherry blossoms, I always automatically thought that they meant going to the Pentagon and just taking pictures. But now that I have gone to the actual Sakura Matsuri, I am invested into going again every year because my experience there was so amazing.

Upon entering the entrance at the Sakura Matsuri, I automatically went to my booth which was called Japanese Plus, where we would set up activities like quilt drawing, drawing, and other information about our program. It was slightly raining in the morning and the night before it had rained, so the booths were wet and we had a pool of water sitting on top of our tent. This made it so that we had to push the tent from the inside in order to spill the water out. The process was really fun, as it brought a little life in the morning. Once we finished pouring out the water, we were ready to start setting up the booth without concern of getting anything wet.

Around 10:30 am was when crowds of people started coming in. At first it was kind of daunting having to communicate with everyone as they passed by our booth. We had to pull people into our booth somehow, and it was either by getting their attention through communicating with them as they passed or trying to draw them in through our mascot, Puni Puni. A majority of the people that came to our booth were first drawn by our logo, Puni Puni, because it looked adorable and they wanted to know what it is, Puni Puni in Japanese means squishy. Another method we used to help draw people in was when me and my fellow classmates went into the crowd and directly asked them if they wanted to learn about our program. The whole process really challenged me out of my comfort zone since it made me communicate to strangers that I didn’t know.

The whole scenery of the Sakura Matsuri was one of a kind. For example, aside from the beautiful cherry blossoms that were still in bloom, there were different kinds of cosplayers. I had never really seen people cosplaying before, and so going to the Sakura Matsuri was the first time I’ve seen cosplayers. The experience was really entrancing as I was able to meet a variety of people and I knew a lot of the characters that people dressed up as. It made the whole experience a lot more engaging as I was eager to go out and about to visit the different booths and people.

My favorite experience at the festival would have to be the food and the people. The foods that were being presented at the booths were yakisoba, takoyaki, bobba, okonomiyaki, etc., a lot of the Japanese cuisines that I have always wanted to try. They did not disappoint as it tasted amazing and beyond what I imagined. So if you ever want to try Japanese food come to the Sakura Matsuri festival as it does not disappoint! The people who came to the festival were also a very unique experience because of their appearance but also because of their personality. The people that I talked to during the festival were really engaging as they had so many things to share. For example, I talked to people that traveled all the way from Taiwan just to participate in the festival. So if you like to eat food, engage with people, learn about Japan, the Sakura Matsuri is something that you should go to.

Wowed by Mochi

By Jonah Nguyen-Conyers

During the Opening Ceremony of the Cherry Blossom Festival, I was able to see this new kind of performer, who went by the name Mochi. Mochi is a performer who uses a Chinese Yo-Yo but is also known as a Diabolo, but often has a digital display behind him to enhance his performance. When going into it I was not expecting much, as this was a toy I played with as a kid, but this performer made magic with this “toy” and I was very thrilled through his entire performance. There are many things he did with the Chinese Yo-Yo to wow many people like myself, but that would be hard to put into words. His performance definitely pulled the highest level of excitement and thrill through all the people in the audience with all the tosses and flings. Mochi’s expertise was quite evident with how he handled the Chinese Yo-Yo. We can tell his dedication to this field of entertainment.

Mochi was an amazing performer and deserved all the applause he got that night and more. He was phenomenal.

New Faces New Friends

By Carlos Daniel Ramirez

Recently on the Japanese Plus program, we got the glad visit of the KAKEHASHI trip. A few of us were exhilarated, anxious and fearless, but also with concerns since our confidence with our Japanese is not the greatest. Mostly, people were nervous because a few of us never went to Japan before, or have not met anyone Japanese around the same age as us, but because some of us had already experience with them, we were absolutely excited for meeting new people.

Since their stay with us was nothing but a quick break from their busy itinerary, we tried to make their experience the most authentic possible – teaching them the Cha-Cha Slide dance. Something that will keep their memories vivid any time they hear “left” or “right,” or even when they hear the word “Cha-Cha-Cha.”

For instance, that was only on our side. The kids from Okinawa did clever presentations to express and share their culture with us. Although some of us were interested in what the food may look like in Okinawa (not me), most of us were interested in the art, traditions, and everything that involved that part of Japan. It’s interesting to perceive that every part of Japan is unique, as every prefecture appears more different than the others. We did not only learn that there were 160 islands in Okinawa, but also that they were the main founders of Karate, and also that they have a ton of rare species of fish.

We had a little conversation with them to seek any new long-lasting friendship, talking to them and seeing their kindness, and friendship that they are characterized by and that they are well being known for. We figured out that we had nothing to fear. Perhaps, our confidence in asking questions in Japanese and watching them be impressed by our great pronunciation (and because they were able to understand everything) the time passed as a gazelle in Africa running away from his predator.

Sadly, even when we wanted to know them better, we had to say bye-bye to our new friends. The emotions were mixed in that small time when we saw them running towards the bus to the last goodbye. “It felt like 10 minutes,” someone said. To which I added: “It was 3 hours. Boy, I am hungry, let me go home,”- me. Well, that was both me, but the importance is that it felt like time just flew away, and I am looking forward to visiting Okinawa, maybe soon. Who knows?

Taiko Drumming

By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

On March 23, the Smithsonian American Art Museum held a small festival in correlation with the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival. In all my time in DC, I have never participated in the Cherry Blossom Festival and this was the first time that I was able to enjoy such a wonderful event. Now, in the American Art Museum, the attractions were mainly geared towards kids, like face painting and making cherry blossom trees from tissue paper and rolls of toilet paper.

However, they also had performances that had already drawn a large adult crowd when I arrived at the event. On the schedule, it showed that the taiko drummers were going to be on at about 2:30 so I roamed the halls of the art museum, waiting for the sound of the drum.

After my roaming, I came back to the mini-festival much earlier than expected and I was able to catch another equally intriguing performance. With an accompaniment of the bamboo flute, I was able to watch three women play the koto, a Japanese string instrument. The tranquility of the koto mixed with melodic movements of the arms of the women playing just kept me invested in the instrument.

However, the beautiful koto did not last as long as the taiko players had just come back. Before the performance, I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t even know how the drum sounded. As the group got ready, I tried to find a good seat up in the front. Then, the performance started. The drums had a low deep vibrating sound but the high paced movements within the performance is what really drew me in. People swung around one drum, flowing in and out of the beat being played by the ensemble behind them. There was shouting and people jumping off the stage. All of these interactive pieces kept me drawn until the last second of the show. The use of both dance and music in such a way was astounding for me.

I suggest everyone go to the Smithsonian American Art Museum to see the taiko drummers whenever the cherry blossoms are in season. The family fun of how child-oriented the festival is gives a bonus to the already magnifique performances enlisted to capture the crowd. If you missed this gathering, please consider other Cherry Blossom Festival activities being done all around DC. The taiko drumming made my first Cherry Blossom season the best one yet and I can’t wait to participate next year.