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Cherry blossom festival offers hope for all

By Don Fennell

Published 12:34 PDT, Tue April 6, 2021

After the rigors of winter, the dawn of spring brings with it a sense of awakening. The birds that had flown south return, and the trees begin to flower. The air is filled with optimism and hope.

Appropriately, as the country continues to navigate the challenges of the pandemic, the theme of this year’s festival is the Japanese word 希望 (Kibou) which translates to “hope.”

Cancelled last year, the celebration has moved online this year at www.richmondcherryblossomfest.ca. Beginning Sunday (April 11), follow @FunRichmond on social media for more news about how to enjoy the cherry blossoms in Garry Point Park. This free program will feature reflections on past festival performances and demonstrations, and new video content starring local artists.

The cherry blossom holds special significance in the Japanese culture, since the seventh century representing renewal in the cycle of life. Hanami, translating to “watching blossoms,” is a centuries-old practice of picnicking under the trees with friends and family.

Famous for its cherry trees—and home to an estimated 50,000—Canada’s West Coast glistens in the early April sunlight as the blossoms reach their peak. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Richmond, where every year its cherry blossom festival grows in popularity.

“The City of Richmond is the proud home to one of Canada’s largest and oldest communities of Japanese-Canadian immigrants, dating back almost 140 years,” said Mayor Malcolm Brodie. “We are thrilled to be able to celebrate our region’s Japanese heritage through the Richmond Cherry Blossom Festival, and to have the opportunity to share the event to even more people this year with the virtual format.”

Online visitors to this year’s Richmond festival will also be able to explore facets of Japanese culture through a series of new videos highlighting performances, how-to demonstrations and more. The videos are organized into five virtual tents found online at www.richmondcherryblossomfest.ca:

• The Sakura Tent features welcome messages from Mayor Brodie, Consul General Takashi Hatori, the Consul General of Japan in Vancouver, the festival directors and original musical performances.

• The Matsuri Tent highlights a sakura (cherry blossom) themed bento box in honour of the centuries-old tradition of picnicking under cherry trees in bloom.

• The Hanami Tent offers a video introducing the art of calligraphy and origami.

• The Kitsuke Tent provides insights into the different styles of kimono.

• The Kuno Tent focuses on a unique school of ikebana (flower arranging).

A grove of 255 Akebono cherry trees will provide a stunning backdrop for a day of nature, culture and community. Patrons will also be invited to explore Japanese traditions including the preparation and presentation of matcha in a Sado tea ceremony, while also witnessing the graceful motions of Shodo, Japanese calligraphy or in the rhythm and discipline of a Taiko performance from the Okinawa Taiko group. Children also encouraged to explore the new Chibi-Chan tent with origami and Yo Yo Tsuri (a balloon fishing game). Entertainment will also be provided on the Sakura and Kuno stages throughout the day, with a selection of food stations serving bento boxes, yakatori skewers and Japanese-inspired hot dogs.

The cherry trees in Garry Point Park reflect the strong bond between Richmond and Wakayama sister cities. The trees were planted by the BC Wakayama Kenjin Kai Association with the support of the city, home to one of Canada’s largest Japanese-Canadian communities. Many residents of Japanese descent came from the Wakayama area, including Gihei Kuno, who became Richmond’s first Japanese immigrant in 1887.

Known as sakura in Japan, the cherry blossom also holds relevance as a gift of friendship. Cherry trees were planted in the United States capital of Washington, D.C. in 1912 as a gift from the people of Japan.

While the main cherry blossom festival in Richmond is centered at Garry Point Park, these beautiful trees can be found throughout the city, both in city parks—including Steveston, Terra Nova and Minoru—and along several of its streetscapes.

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