A cherry blossom festival, also called Sakura Matsuri, is a spring festival that celebrates the natural beauty of cherry trees, along with Japanese food, culture, and history. Such festivals are held all over the world, including in Japan, as gestures of goodwill and friendship. Most major metropolitan areas have a yearly one in the spring.
Naturally, a cherry blossom festival centers around the exquisite pale pink blooms of Prunus yedoensis, the Yoshino cherry tree. The Yoshino cherry, called sakura in Japanese, is an ornamental tree cultivated for its blooms and does not produce fruit. Thousands of years of Japanese tradition celebrate the cherry, which is featured prominently in Japanese art and culture. Many Japanese enjoy the annual tradition of blossom viewing parties, which often include trips into the countryside to picnic under the cherry trees. Most blossom viewing parties also include art and poetry, with guests composing short poems or brush paintings to celebrate the experience.
Attendees wander through orchards of cherry trees to enjoy the beautiful view. Japanese ornamental gardens often feature a variety of other beautiful flowering plants along with fish ponds and decorative structures. Most festivals also feature a street fair, where visitors can purchase Japanese art, crafts, and food. They often celebrate Japanese culture with artistic performances, such as traditional Japanese dancing and plays, as well.
In the United States, many cities hold an annual cherry blossom festival in cooperation with the local Japanese embassy or goodwill society. The nation of Japan has made numerous gifts of ornamental cherry trees to countries all over the world, including a gift in 1912 of 3,000 trees to the city of Washington, D.C., which has a world famous festival around the time that they bloom. An emphasis on friendly ties with Japan and cooperation between nations is the focus of a festival, when visitors are not sampling delicious food, watching performances, or simply enjoying the cherry trees.
In most cases, these events last at least two weeks to take advantage of the blooming window provided by the cherry trees. In Japan, regional festivals celebrate individual cuisine and arts, and travelers often enjoy several festivals, much like Americans travel to see the fall color in the Eastern States. In other parts of the world, they are a chance to experience Japanese culture in general and can make a fun trip for all ages.