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Annual Japanese festival attracts crowd in downtown Washington

The Japan-America Society of Washington, DC picked the warmest day of the year for its 54th Annual Sakura Matsuri – Japanese Street Festival this year. On Saturday, April 12, crowds went out in the sun on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington for the ritual part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival to enjoy Japanese food and culture.

Plenty of Japanese and non-Japanese merchandise was for sale, including clothing, jewelry and food, ranging from wasabi peas to make-your-own cotton candy. Even McDonald's was providing coffee samples.

It was almost too nice a day and the place too crowded. Around 1:30 p.m., you had to wait in line 10 minutes to use the port-a-potty. But from the line, you could see the entertaiment, so it wasn't completely lost time.

Much worse, however, were the exorbitantly long lines you had to wait in to get some Japanese food. It took 84 minutes in a snaking line to get an octopus sample and some Japanese noodles. I saw a few women suffer from the heat – no shade in these lines, and not many tables to eat at. You had to sit on the curb. But at least people were going for the appropriate cuisine – the lines for gyros and cheeseburgers were much shorter.

I'd been attending this festival in previous years and it had never gotten so crowded. A few chairs were placed in front of the stages but most attendees had to stand in the sun to watch performances, ranging from dance to drumming to Japanese punk rock.

The society add a new Japanese Culinary Arts Pavilion this year featuring cooking demos and samples. But the tent was rather small for the number of attendees. Saw a presentation on different types of sake and a demo on how to make Japanese fried chicken salad Americana by a distinctly non-Japanese chef. Yes, Japanese cuisine has gone worldly!