Flower Power

Preparing for National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade
Cherry Blossom princesses Rena Schwartz Shigihara, 8, left; Rieka Margaret Yanagi, 15; and Dominique Naomi Meier, 8, practice waving before last year's parade. (Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Ray M. Lane
Friday, March 24, 2006

If nature cooperates, thousands of luscious pink and puffy white flowers will bloom on the city's famous Japanese cherry trees next week during the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

On the predicted peak dates -- Monday and Tuesday -- Washington will become one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The blossoms could last as long as 14 days and coincide with the two-week festival, which runs from Saturday to April 9.

All this is cause for celebration. And there's lots to enjoy during the festival besides the beckoning trees of the Tidal Basin, West Potomac Park, East Potomac Park and the grounds of the Washington Monument. But just sorting through the many planned activities on the festival Web site would take an hour. That's too exhausting.

We've simplified matters with a list of 10 ways to marvel at the blossoms and experience Japanese culture. You can start with something new: Family Day at the National Building Museum. Follow that by flying kites, watching a parade or fireworks, or taking nature photos. Then, as the weather warms and fading blossoms scatter in the breeze, do as the Japanese do -- go have a picnic.

1. Fear not the rain showers, high winds or occasional snow squalls of early spring. Visitors to Saturday's opening ceremony of the National Cherry Blossom Festival will be well protected in the National Building Museum.

Pass through a tori gate, a symbol of prosperity and good fortune, starting at 10 for Family Day, featuring hands-on presentations of Japanese arts and crafts, such as paper-folding and floral arrangement, designed especially for families; kids will have a chance to make miniature paper gardens to take home. Watch a demonstration of mukimono , the art of carving vegetables and fruits.

Fan-making, brush painting demonstrations, a fashion show and a bonsai display are scheduled as well, and Japanese comic books, or manga , will be on display. The "Anime Blossom" exhibit will include banks of televisions offering continuous screenings of Japanese animation videos.

Opening ceremonies are at 4, with speeches, a presentation of the festival's goodwill ambassadors and the ear-shattering artistry of internationally renowned taiko drummer Kenny Endo.

FAMILY DAY AND OPENING CEREMONY Saturday 10 to 5:30. National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW (Metro: Judiciary Square). Free. 202-272-2448. http://www.nbm.org/. A listing of all festival events is at http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/.

2. The 40th annual Smithsonian Kite Festival, titled "Blowin' in the Wind," swoops onto the Washington Monument grounds Saturday and again features competitions, "hot tricks" showdowns and kite beauty contests and races. The psychedelic, '60s-themed festival, commemorating the groovy decade of the event's birth, will have kite-making and other activities for children, as well as the traditional rokkaku battle of the kites, in which competitors try to ground their opponents' kites.

Participating in the cherry blossom festival April 7 and 8 will be the Shirone kite club, a 300-year-old kite association from Japan. Assisted by members of the Wings Over Washington Kite Club on April 7, eight kite fliers from the Shirone club will construct their Tasuke -- a 24-foot-long war kite based on a mythical fish and requiring as many as 50 handlers. As the Shirone team assembles the bamboo and mulberry-paper Tasuke at the National Air and Space Museum, visitors will be able to examine the huge kite and Japanese kite-making materials.

Shirone members will march in the Cherry Blossom Parade on April 8 with their American helpers hauling big kites. They will set up by noon on the Washington Monument grounds and fly their kites until sundown. The kite club will also bring 40 smaller kites and encourage youngsters to fly them.

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