May 6, 2016 Vol. 12, No. 7

· The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade

· Sakura Matsuri

· Cherry Blossom Festival Lantern Lighting Ceremony

· Freedom Walk

· Cherry Blossom Princess Program

The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade

Stretching for 10 blocks along Constitution Avenue, and broadcast across the country, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade isn't just a cornerstone of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, but has become a highlight of springtime in Washington DC! And as you'd expect, Japanese performers and supporters were a big part of the Parade again this year.

Ambassador Sasae made an appearance among the many floats and performing groups, this year accompanied by Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, who was visiting the city to honor the 104th anniversary since the Mayor of Tokyo gifted the Cherry Trees to Washington DC. Other participants included the Tamagawa University Dance and Taiko Group from Tokyo, the Japanese Cherry Blossom Queen, and floats from sponsors including NHK World and Japanese airline ANA.

If you missed it, WJLA-TV has a stream on their website here:

Sakura Matsuri

As it has for many years, the Sakura Matsuri - Washington, DC Japanese Street Festival marked the final weekend of the 2016 National Cherry Blossom Festival, bringing over 25,000 visitors to the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood. This year they were joined by the Governor of Tokyo, Yoichi Masuzoe, who hailed the spirit of the event, remarking that "it's almost as if the cherry blossoms are celebrating the friendship between the two cities of Washington, D.C. and Tokyo."

Performers from Japan and the United States took to four stages, showcasing everything from traditional martial arts to modern rock and roll. Booths throughout the grounds featured unique products, demonstrated cultural activities, and highlighted Japan-related programs like the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). The Culinary Arts Pavilion was a standout attraction: Sponsored by the Embassy, the Pavilion featured several chefs demonstrating Japanese culinary techniques to eager audiences.

In closing his remarks, Ambassador Sasae said, “This street festival [furthers the understanding between Japan and the United States] better than I ever could. Thank you for being here to celebrate the friendship between our two countries.”

Cherry Blossom Festival Lantern Lighting Ceremony

"One day this lantern of friendship will have spent as much time in this country as in Japan and some future Japanese Ambassador will be standing here talking about the ancient friendship between Japan and the United States." On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Washington DC, Ambassador Sasae was speaking of the 350-year-old stone lantern which has stood next to the Tidal Basin for over 60 years.

The lantern was a gift from Japan in 1954, made to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the first treaty between Japan and America, and it is lit only once each year during this special ceremony. The lantern lighting also marked the beginning of the 2016 Cherry Blossom Princesses' week-long visit to Washington. This year Ms. Miyuko Niwa was the Japan Princess, chosen by the local Japanese community in the D.C. area. She lit the lantern with the help of a member of the National Park Service, in front of the large crowd.

Freedom Walk

I am sure that 100 years from now, new generations will begin the Freedom Walk in front of this memorial and under the same cherry blossoms,” noted Deputy Chief of Mission Atsuyuki Oike to the rain-soaked but enthusiastic participants assembled at the 18th Annual Cherry Blossom Freedom Walk. The Freedom Walk aims to raise awareness of Japanese American history and recognize the importance of preserving the constitutional rights of all Americans, meeting at the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II.

This year's theme, "Protecting our History, Preserving our Parks," was chosen to commemorate the closing of the World War II Japanese American internment camps as well as celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service, which plays an important role in maintaining the memorial as well as the famous trees celebrated by the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

DCM Oike, Public Affairs Minister Tamaki Tsukada, and a number of Embassy diplomats joined participants from a diverse group of organizations, including the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, Japanese American Veterans Association and the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). Participants were also treated to a performance by the Nen Daiko drummers of Virginia's Ekoji Buddhist Temple.

Cherry Blossom Princess Program

"How much less fun, how much less festive, the spring would be without the presence of the princesses here in Washington," said Deputy Chief of Mission Atsuyuki Oike at one of the Cherry Blossom Princess events held during the final week of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Since 1948, the National Conference of State Societies has sent young women representing states, territories and countries to Washington DC for a week of events culminating in the crowning of a new Cherry Blossom Queen!

This year's busy schedule included an appearance at the Ambassador's Residence for a reception honoring the 104th anniversary of the gift of cherry trees to the United States. The event included remarks by Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines and Ms. Gay Vietzke, Superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks at the National Park Service, which is celebrating its own 100th anniversary.

The Cherry Blossom Princess Congressional Reception was held at the U.S. Botanic Garden, which gave an opportunity to celebrate the Princesses' ties to each state. The reception included remarks from Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a former Cherry Blossom Princesses herself!

The Japan Information and Culture Center received their own visit with the Cherry Blossom Princesses, as they toured the Kogei artisan crafts exhibition, which displays 30 works encompassing ceramics, metalwork, glass and lacquerware in partnership with the Onishi Gallery.

As part of his visit to Washington DC to celebrate the gift of cherry trees by the Mayor of Tokyo in 1912, the Governor of Tokyo(Tokyo Gov) Yoichi Masuzoe joined the Official Cherry Blossom Grand Ball, and spun the wheel to choose the 2016 Cherry Blossom Queen. This year that title, and the accompanying prize of a round trip ticket to Japan, went to Rachel Bohn from Wisconsin. The Princesses, led by the new Cherry Blossom Queen, also joined in the Cherry Blossom Parade and Sakura Matsuri - Washington, DC street festival to cap off their visit, and the Festival itself!