Cherry Blossom Festival

By Rebecca Dow

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The Japanese American Society of Maine performing traditional Japanese music in celebration of the Cherry Blossom Festival. Photo by Rebecca Dow.

On Friday, May 4, The Japanese American Society of Maine (JASM) celebrated the annual Cherry Blossom Festival with the city of Portland. Located directly in front of Portland’s City Hall, there was not only a food truck (courtesy of Mami, a Portland-based restaurant and Japanese street food service), but also live entertainment. My roommate and good friend, Emi Yokoyama, is a transfer student from Japan; she has had the wonderful opportunity to perform in association with drummers from the JASM.

The group present for the festival event were drummers playing some traditional Japanese music. As for Yokoyama, her performance consisted of a solo on her koto, a traditional Japanese instrument — one of those most widely known to Americans.

As for the drummers, they each wore headbands and kept perfect time with each other.
Some of the songs had a story or idea behind them, even though there were few if any lyrics spoken — for example, one was a song about luck. JASM and the food truck were both in association with ISF Trading, a seafood trading company distributing mainly sea urchin and sea cucumbers.

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Emi Yokoyama playing her Koto in front of Portland’s City Hall. Photo by Rebecca Dow.

For those of you unaware about the history surrounding the Cherry Blossom Festival in America and Japan, here is a summary of the significance it holds to our society. In 1912, a gift of 3,000 cherry trees were given to America by Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The celebration of this giving between nations is annual, and persists as a testament to maintaining good relations between Japanese and American peoples.

In 1910, a first batch of 2,000 trees were given; however, they were diseased. So, with the help of renowned Japanese chemist Dr. Jokichi Takamine, Dr. David Fairchild of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and Eliza Scidmore, the first female board member of the National Geographic Society, the 3,000 trees sent in 1912 arrived disease free.

The first ladies of our country have always had a role in the celebration of the Cherry Blossom Festival, beginning with Helen Herron Taft, who, with Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador at the time, planted the first two Japanese Cherry trees on American soil.

The remembrance of this act of giving is important to us all, as it is important for us to remember our ties with others across the globe. Cultural differences and past regrets may still exist as a stain on our memories; however, when we as two nations come together in celebration of the spirit of friendship and giving, don’t the tears of our past seem a bit more dried?

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