The weekend of April 12 saw thousands gather to Washington, D.C. to celebrate Japanese culture at the 54th Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival. The annual event stretches for six blocks through downtown D.C. on Pennsylvania Avenue from 9th to 14th Streets, transforming the normally busy road to Congress into an all-day heritage festival with everything from delicious food to performances by Japanese historic groups and musicians.
People travel from all over the country to attend the annual festival and as Christopher Wanamaker will tell you, the festival has something for everyone to enjoy. “The Sakura Matsuri Festival is a lot of fun. The weather is usually nice, the people are friendly and I love parading around in costume,” Christopher said, dressed as Mario from the iconic video game, "Super Mario Bros." “The event is unique from an otaku's perspective, since it’s a mix of both those who are into the Japanese culture and those who are into new things from the Land of the Rising Sun."
Sakura Matsuri not only encourages attendees to have fun, but to learn more about the Japanese culture. One of the festival’s exhibits, “Let’s Learn Japanese,” promotes learning Japanese as a second language. The exhibit’s operator, Laura Symborski, believes that learning a second language, especially Japanese, is an important skill to have. "Learning a second language opens so many doors and introduces you to new cultures," Laura said. "Japan has a very different culture from the one in America and there's a lot of fun things and new experiences you can have if you lean a new language like Japanese."
The Sakura Matsuri Street Festival, starting in 1960, is part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, an annual two-week event that celebrates the first gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC in 1912. Both the gift and the two-week long celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued relationship between the two countries.