Phone calls. E-mails. Text messages.
Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, has gotten them all Wednesday from concerned patrons after The Washington Post reported that one of the festival’s most popular events – the Sakura Matsuri Japanese culture street fair April 9 – will charge a $5 entry fee this year. It is the first time in 15 years that the street fair will not be free.
Mayhew said that many patrons have been confused, thinking all of the events during the two-week-long festival will require payment. In fact, she said, most of the events are free, including the opening ceremony and family day events at the National Building Museum March 26, the Cherry Blossom parade April 9 and regular performances at Sylvan Stage throughout the fortnight. Viewings of the famous blossoms also remain free.
Mayhew attributed the confusion to follow-up reports on television and other media.
“TV stations picked up [the story] without calling or asking for or getting details,” she said, noting that many of the calls, e-mails and texts she has received are from teachers and parents worried that they will have to pay for each event.
“What it shows you is the emotional attachment everybody has to the festival,” Mayhew said.
The Sakura Matsuri street fair is one of the festival’s biggest events, having drawn a crowd of around 150,000 each of the past several years, said John R. Malott, the president of the non-profit Japan-America Society of Washington, which stages it. Production costs have risen to $300,000, which led organizers to conduct surveys the past two years about the willingness of patrons to pay a nominal entry fee. Most said they would pay, Malott said.
The Japan-America Society of Washington is one of several dozen partners that work under the umbrella of the non-profit National Cherry Blossom Festival board. Mayhew said her organization was aware of the society’s decision to begin charging a fee.
“We didn’t have a concern with the decision. We support it,” she said. “But there’s always a concern with perception.”
Festival officials and the National Park Service have scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Newseum to announce the peak blooming day, which usually falls around April 4.