Views of Washington's famous cherry blossoms are still free. But the popular Japanese culture street fair that culminates the two-week-long National Cherry Blossom Festival no longer is.
For the first time in
its 51-year history 15 years, the Sakura Matsuri festival along Pennsylvania Avenue NW will take place April 9 behind a 6-foot high fence and require visitors to pay a $5 admission fee, organizers said Tuesday.
The fee will help cover an estimated $300,000 in costs to produce the event, which has drawn about 150,000 people in each of the past several years, said John R. Malott, president of the Japan-America Society, which stages the street fair. In all, about 4,000 staff, volunteers, government officials and performers are part of the staging process, he added.
"The number one complaint we get is that there are so many people, it's become so crowded that people can't enjoy it," Malott said. "Hopefully an admission fee will reduce the size of the crowd and people will have a better time."
The fence will run along Pennsylvania Avenue between 9th and 14th Streets, Malott said. The fair will no longer also run north-south along 12th Street, which it traditionally did. There will be five entrance gates and customers may purchase tickets at the door, but Malott encouraged event-goers to buy tickets ahead of time at the event's Web site.
This year, the event will feature appearances by Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi and Japan's only NASCAR driver Akinori Ogata. Maki Kaji, the "father of Sudoku," who appeared in 2009, will make a return visit. Several performers, including Uzuhi, a Japanese Pop Punk band, will also be on hand.
"Knock on wood, the weather will be good and the net income from that will allow us to in the future to bring more performers from Japan," Malott said.
Asked whether he thought event-goers would grumble about the admission fee, Malott said his organization conducted surveys for the past several years. Most visitors remain at the event for five hours, he said, and 30 percent are tourists from out of town – both groups that will find the entrance fee a small inconvenience for a day's worth of entertainment.
Organizers of the Philadelphia Sakura Matsuri charged a fee last year, he added, and had the same sized crowd – about 40,000 – as the previous year when it was free.
"Experts told us when we did the study that some people will object but the No. 1 factor is that as long as the line is moving and people get in quickly, they'll come in," Malott said.