Prospect Heights

What to see at the Cherry Blossom Festival

Sword swingers, singers, cosplayers and more

April 23, 2019 Lore Croghan
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is ready for Sakura Matsuri, which will take place this weekend. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Everybody from Brooklyn knows at least two words in Japanese.

If you’re old enough to read, you know Sakura Matsuri is the name for Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival. It takes place this Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The popular event, which the famous Prospect Heights garden launched in 1982, draws thousands of visitors from all over the country — and Japan.

This is important: Tickets are required for entry to Sakura Matsuri.

You’re advised to reserve or buy them online since the festival is expected to sell out. Members’ tickets are free of charge. Nonmembers pay $30 per person. Seniors and students pay $25. Admission is free for children under 12.

There are more than 200 flowering cherry trees in the 52-acre garden — which will be filled this weekend with performers, cosplay devotees all dressed up like their favorite characters and hordes of folks savoring the spring scenery.

In Tuesday’s glorious 70-degree weather, we got a peek at some of the cool people and things you’ll see at the festival this weekend.

The Cherry Esplanade is a must-see spot during Sakura Matsuri. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
The Cherry Esplanade is a must-see spot during Sakura Matsuri. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

The Cherry Esplanade

All cherry trees are beautiful. But the ones that deliver the biggest thrills at Brooklyn Botanic Garden can be found in the Cherry Esplanade.

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It’s a vast lawn planted with 76 trees in four rows that form two corridors. When you walk beneath their branches, you’re in a leafy, floral world all your own.

When they’re at their peak, the blossoms on the Cherry Esplanade’s trees look like big, fat pink marshmallows.

Here’s a cherry blossom closeup. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Here’s a cherry blossom closeup. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

On Tuesday, some of the trees on the Cherry Esplanade were beginning to bloom. Mark Fisher, Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s vice president of horticulture, hopes they’ll be looking good by the time the festival rolls around.

“With the weather, there’s a good chance that more than half the Cherry Esplanade trees will be in bloom this weekend,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It’s going to be magic.”

Yoshi Amao’s Samurai Sword Soul

This is Samurai swordsmanship for the 21st century.

Yoshi Amao’s theater company deploys skills passed from Japan’s aristocratic warrior caste, the Samurai, as well as karate and Japanese fencing techniques.

The group, which is called Samurai Sword Soul, has performed at Sakura Matsuri every year since 2003.

Japanese-born Amao is an actor, sword fighter and fight choreographer. He studied under Samurai master Tahei Waki before immigrating to New York in 1990.

This group of performers called Samurai Sword Soul will perform at the Cherry Blossom Festival. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
This group of performers called Samurai Sword Soul will perform at the Cherry Blossom Festival. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Charles Battersby’s Anime Quiz Battleground

Charles Battersby is a playwright, actor, game designer, journalist, model and cosplayer.

Over the years, Battersby’s cosplay characters have included Catwoman, Captain America wearing a little blue dress, and Cinderbelle, a mashup of Disney princesses Cinderella and Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.”

“I’m horribly shy in the real world, but as soon as the costumes go on, I’m in character,” Battersby said in a 2015 interview with the website Geek and Sundry. “It’s hard to be an introvert when you’re wearing a tiara and a hoopskirt, and little girls are screaming, ‘Hi Cinderella!’ at you.”

Battersby is hosting a game show called Anime Quiz Battleground at Sakura Matsuri. Festival goers will compete for prizes by answering questions about video games, comic books and manga.

Battersby dressed as a cheerleader for the press preview, and gave a brief demonstration of the game with a cohort of cosplayers.

That’s Charles Battersby in a cheerleader’s uniform with a cohort of cosplayers. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
That’s Charles Battersby in a cheerleader’s uniform with a cohort of cosplayers. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

The Cherry Walk

Just to the east of the Cherry Esplanade, there’s another cluster of trees, which is known as the Cherry Walk.

These trees were bursting with blossoms on Tuesday.

On some, the branches grow low close to the ground, which made them ideal backdrops for people posing for pictures.

The Cherry Walk has been around for eons. It was constructed in 1921.

People pose for pictures by the Cherry Walk. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
People pose for pictures by the Cherry Walk. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Twisty BonBon

Twisty is a Japanese music producer. BonBon is a Japanese singer.

They joined forces and formed a techno-pop group in 2016 called Twisty BonBon, and will be performing at the Cherry Blossom Festival.

At the press preview, the singer played a cherry-red bass guitar and rocked out. The music was trippy, a little bit psychedelic and a lot of fun.

Here’s a member of Twisty BonBon, which is playing at the festival. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Here’s a member of Twisty BonBon, which is playing at the festival. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden

The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden is a piece of living history. Its cherry trees are pretty, too.

This garden was constructed a century ago and opened in 1915. It was the brainchild of a Japanese-born landscape designer named Takeo Shiota.

A bright red torii, which is a Shinto shrine gate, stands serenely in the pond. Paths that wind along the pond’s shore are lined with two dozen flowering cherry trees.

The day of the press preview was sunny, so the pond’s waters worked like a mirror, reflecting the torii and nearby cherry trees.

The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden looks so picturesque today.
The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden looked so picturesque. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Ka-Na

Ka-Na is a gold record-selling singer-songwriter-guitarist from Japan who captivates listeners with her wistful acoustic ballads.

Julie Andrews’ star turn in the film “The Sound of Music” inspired Ka-Na to become a songwriter and performer.

Since late 2016, she has lived in New York City.

She said at the press preview that she attended Sakura Matsuri last year and had so much fun that she realized she wanted to perform at it.

“My dream came true,” she said.

This singer’s name is Ka-Na. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
This singer’s name is Ka-Na. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Yayoi Ikawa and Emeline Michel

Yayoi Ikawa is a Tokyo-born jazz pianist and composer. She was brought up in New York, where she soaked up a wide range of musical influences.

Haiti-born singer and songwriter Emeline Michel blends jazz, pop, blues and traditional Creole music in her works.

The two women will be performing together at the Cherry Blossom Festival. They make an awesome team.

Michel has the voice of a goddess. Her singing at the press preview was mesmerizing.

Emeline Michel will perform at the festival. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Emeline Michel will perform at the festival. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

The tulips by the Lily Pool Terrace

You can’t leave Brooklyn Botanic Garden until you make a stop at the Lily Pool Terrace to see the tulips.

They’re arrayed in a magic carpet of varied hues. They are magenta, orange, hot pink, lavender, yellow, cream and white.

Tulips line the Lily Pool Terrace. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s tulips are really something. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s tulips are really something. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Some are striped. Others have serrated edges. Wow.

The terrace is located alongside Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s lovely greenhouses.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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