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Brooklyn Botanic Garden celebrates Japan’s cherry blossom festival

May 2, 2016 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A young woman strolls along the Cherry Walk wearing a red kimono with a blossom over one ear. Eagle photos by Andy Katz
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People from all over the tristate area filled Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden to celebrate the first day of Sakura Matsuri, the traditional Japanese cherry blossom festival, now in its 35th year. Many visitors sported kimonos, cosplay-themed outfits and steampunk-inspired costumes as they strolled along the Cherry Walk, a meandering path lined by one of the largest collections of prunus Kanzan, or Japanese cherry cultivars, found outside Japan itself.

Kids riding their parents’ shoulders grabbed at low hanging blossoms while teens and 20-somethings sported hair in shades of pink that matched the delicate pale blooms.

“This is what springtime is,” said one young woman arrayed in bright purple and black who gave her cosplay name, “Caitlyn.” Actress and award-winning costume designer Aleta Pardalis strode beneath the cherry blossoms wearing a stunning purple “Steampunk Maleficent” costume complete with great horns and a working mechanical parrot in cage.

A stage set at one end of the Cherry Esplanade featured sets of Kabuki Buyo dances. Renowned choreographer Sachiyo Ito and her company, Dancejapan, commanded the stage with traditional styles such as Higasa Odori, or parasol dance, and Okame, mask dancing. Dr Ruth Abrahams, executive director of Gomez Foundation for Mill House, introduced each variation with a brief comment on its significance.

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After the dancers took their bow, actress and martial artist Saori Goda of Samurai Sword Soul led the audience in a Japanese-language song, working the crowd through pronunciation of each unfamiliar word, after which the Samurai Sword Soul ensemble demonstrated swordsmanship performing a lengthy and often humorous melodrama that featured mandatory characters such as the young lovers, scowling villain, inept hero and gaggle of black-masked ninjas.

Elsewhere in the park, children studied manga drawing, bamboo insect hotel crafting and methods of origami with folding master Jeremy Aaron Horland. Visitors lined C.V. Starr’s Bonsai Museum, studying examples of miniature trees from every part of the world, and even experiencing scents like those which cause some plants to attract ants or the spicy fragrance of summersweet.

Sakura Matsuri is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s busiest, best-attended event. While park officials don’t provide precise attendance figures, the garden’s Andy Cushman estimated attendance in the tens of thousands. This year also marked the centennial of the garden’s Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, with visitors lining up for tours of the Torii Gate and nishikigoi, or brocaded carp, pond.

The cherry blossom festival traditionally marks the close of hanami, a Japanese tradition of appreciating the transient beauty of flowers said to date from the eighth-century Nara period, when Japan’s capital city was temporarily located in the city of Nara and the country’s was culture strongly influenced by China.

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