Prospect Heights

Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival Sakura Matsuri returns to Brooklyn

April 22, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Traditional taiko drumming was used in religious ceremonies or to send signals during battles. Today, it is used to signal to Brooklynites that one of the most exciting and colorful festivals is taking place at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is hosting the 34th annual Sakura Matsuri festival on April 25 and 26 — the largest annual event held in a U.S. public garden — which celebrates contemporary Japanese culture and, of course, the cherry blossoms.

The show becomes increasingly popular each year, and this season is no different. The festival will include more than 60 musical and dance performances, art and horticulture demonstrations and special exhibits showcasing Japanese culture.

“I’ve been doing this since 2003 and it doesn’t get boring because it seems like it’s bigger every year,” said the festival’s emcee Yoshi Amao. “You start to see some of the same people coming back and they get so into the performances. I don’t even use a script anymore because the audience reacts so well that I’m just up there having fun and improving everything.”

For the sixth year in a row, the festival will be closed out with a popular Cosplay Fashion Show, which will be accompanied by drumming ensemble Taiko Masala. 

“This has become one of my favorite shows to perform at all year,” said Yoko Nakahashi of the Taiko Masala ensemble. “It’s so beautiful, and every year the crowds are bigger and they really cheer us on. It makes me feel like a rock star.” 

The cosplay has gotten so popular that Amao has tweaked his Samurai Sword Soul performance this year. Instead of focusing on the samurai and the samurai spirit, it’s more ninja-focused this year, which allows the cosplayers to become more involved.

“In the U.S. and in New York, cosplay is getting so popular, and I wanted to appeal more to that. So we combined our focus on the samurai with more ninja stuff,” Amao said. 

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One of the new shows that will take the main stage on Saturday is Akim Funk Buddha’s Urban Tea Ceremony, which mashes up the traditional Japanese ritual with his own hip-hop style. 

“I’m a cultural alchemist; I like to mix cultures together and see what happens,” Funk Buddha said. “It’s a theatrical piece that connects classic Japanese tradition with classic hip-hop. The tea ceremony has existed for a very long time, but the urban tea ceremony is an act I’ve been developing for almost 10 years.”

Other shows include Dancejapan with Sachiyo Ito, presenting a Kabuki Buyo dance; the Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York’s flower hat dance; traditional tea ceremonies and Ikebana flower arranging. Bonsai curator Julian Velasco will give an “Art of Bonsai” talk, tours of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden will be available and a marketplace will sell Japanese wares like vintage kimonos. 

In the Osborne Garden there will be a cosplay show, book signings with authors and illustrators, and Japanese stand-up comedians. There will be plenty of activities for kids, including taiko drumming workshops and magician Rich Kameda performing tricks with a Japanese twist.

The full schedule of events is available at bbg.org/visit/event/sakura_matsuri_2015. Admission is $25 for adults and $20 for students. Kids under 12 get in free.

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