By Lucia Viti
Balboa Park’s Japanese Friendship Garden will feature its 10th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival on Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8. Celebrate the onset of spring in the Japanese custom of Hanami — flower viewing — and picnic under the pink-blossoming, nationally treasured beauties. Festival highlights will include dance and musical performances of Taiko drumming; a presentation of the Tea Ceremony from the Urasenke Association of San Diego; Japanese treats such as yakisoba, okonomiyaki, taiyaki and tacoyaki; and local vendors selling unique Japanese artifacts. The Friendship Garden will also host a children’s zone for arts and crafts, as well as a sake and beer garden for the adults.
“The Cherry Blossom Festival is a popular celebration of the Japanese Friendship Garden,” said Marisa Espinosa, operations assistant for the Japanese Friendship Society of San Diego. “The festival is best described as a street fair within our gardens that highlights Japanese culture. Today more than 6,000 people visit 150 cherry trees that cover a four-acre span within the garden, their beauty glorified by their once-a-year, two-week blooming.”
America’s National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates Tokyo’s 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees to Washington, D.C. The United States reciprocated in 1915 with flowering dogwood trees, and in 1981, America gave Japanese horticulturists cuttings from Washington’s cherry trees to replace those in Japan destroyed by a flood.
The 2001 advent of San Diego’ collection of cherry trees was not, however, without complications. The arrival of more than 200 trees from Orange County was stalled by funding required for transport, and tree survival in San Diego’s coastal climate was questioned. Undeterred, Nuccio’s Nursery of Orange County developed a double-hybrid cherry tree graft that would reliably blossom in the shore line environment and supporters poured in donations, most notably from the Asakwa family, caretakers of San Diego’s original Tea House.
The Japanese Friendship Garden was originally a Tea House Exhibit during the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 and 1916. Japan built and dismantled the Tea House (for shipping), which was reassembled in San Diego. The Asakwa family agreed to serve as the Tea House’s custodians, so long as they could live in it. The family owned and operated a local nursery while they maintained the Tea House and sold snacks and tea. The Tea House closed in 1945 when the Asakwa family was sent to Japanese internment camps, and it was ultimately demolished in 1954. The site was rebuilt in 1990 as the first phase of the birth of the Japanese Friendship Garden as a valued asset to Balboa Park. The garden’s winding paths include a Zen garden, a koi pond, bonsai trees and a Fujidana — a wisteria arbor. Classes are offered in the art of making sushi, bonsai trees, Japanese calligraphy and conversational Japanese. Now, more than 100,000 people visit the Friendship Garden each year.
“The Japanese Friendship Garden is an expression of friendship between San Diego and its sister city of Yokohama,” explained Luann Kanzawa, the garden’s executive director. “The garden binds two cultures together in friendship while providing educational resources to the community.”
Japanese Friendship Garden Members and children six and younger will receive free admittance to the 10th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Cost for non-members is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, students and military personnel. Presale tickets are $5 across the board. Tickets for food, beer, the sake garden and the children’s area are all sold separately. The festival may be cancelled in the event of inclement weather. Hours of operation are Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
—Contact Lucia Viti at firstname.lastname@example.org.