Visitors lined the National Mall and Tidal Basin this week to celebrate spring in Washington, D.C., and gathered for the first in-person National Cherry Blossom Festival in three years.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival and the Japan Foundation hosted a sold-out opening ceremony at Warner Theatre March 20 to kick off this year’s festival. The festival features multiple events, including a run, music and art displays. Before its April 17 conclusion, it will also hold the Blossom Kite Festival on March 26 and the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade on April 9. The festivities come as the cherry blossom trees reached peak bloom March 21, 10 days ahead of average, with 70% of the Tidal Basin’s Yoshino cherry trees blooming.
This year’s festival — which featured performers like Japanese percussionist Toshihiro Yuta and samurai artist KAMUI — marks a return of the iconic springtime celebration after the 2020 and 2021 events had to be held virtually, canceled or scaled down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Diana Mayhew, President and CEO of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, in a March 1 press release.
“We’ve brought a number of talented artists together for a unique, one-time-only performance,” Mayhew wrote in the press release. “We look forward to an unforgettable celebration of Japanese culture and the cherry blossoms that starts at the stage and extends worldwide.”
In addition to the performances, Japanese Ambassador Koji Tomita offered remarks to the audience in the opening ceremony, highlighting the strength of Japanese-American relations and how the cherry blossoms serve as an annual reminder of the alliance.
“One hundred ten years ago, as a gift of friendship, the mayor of Tokyo donated about 3,000 cherry blossom trees to the people of the United States,” Tomita said at the ceremony. “That gift has blossomed into an amazing celebration that we are opening today.”
First lady Jill Biden, who serves as an honorary chair of the festival, addressed the theater through a pre-recorded video, where she said the resurgence of the cherry blossoms offers hope amid times of turmoil.
“When their flowers blanket our sidewalks and river trails, we are reminded of the harmony, constancy and renewal that can be found in nature. The world keeps moving forward, and even the coldest winter can’t last forever,” Biden said at the ceremony. “The President and I wish you warm days and bright skies, friendships that deepen with time and the renewed hope that comes this spring.”
More than 1.5 million people visit the Cherry Blossom Festival every year, including Isabel Mu (SFS ’24), who said she was excited for the return of the festival following two years of closure.
“The festival symbolizes a return to normalcy, where I can resume my day-to-day activities,” Mu wrote to The Hoya. “For instance, visiting the cherry blossoms is only an activity I can do if I live on campus in D.C. Especially since peak blossom week is the same time as Georgetown making masks optional, I think the festival is a closer step towards the end of the pandemic.”
Eric Canady, a tourist from Portland, Ore., said the cherry blossoms offer an opportunity to see many of the District’s landmarks in a unique way while celebrating the spring weather.
“We rented some bikes and we’re cruising around the National Mall checking out the monuments,” Canady said in an interview with The Hoya. “We went by the White House, the World War II memorial, we’re here at the Lincoln Memorial and next we’re off to the Jefferson.”
According to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), the festival serves as the grand reopening of the District to the rest of the nation amid waning COVID-19 cases and precautionary measures.
“We want D.C. to be the face of spring for the nation,” Bowser said in a March 1 press conference. “Let me say, without equivocation, that D.C. is open.”
The cherry blossom festival offers another opportunity for Georgetown students to visit many of the District’s famous sights, Mu said.
“The festival represents another opportunity for me to explore the city with my friends, since the cherry blossoms are special to D.C.,” Mu wrote. “They remind me of sunny weather and the happy memories I associated with visiting D.C. as a kid.”