The 33rd Annual Sakaura Matsuri Festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

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On April 15, 2014, the season for the Spring Cherry Blossoms officially started at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens (BBG) in Brooklyn New York. Early blooming Prunus sargentii Fudenzakura and Prunus Okame cherry trees make their imprint at the BBG!

Hanami typically unfolds at the beginning of April and continues through early May, as the blossoms of more than 200 flowering cherry trees go from bud to bloom to blankets of fallen petals across the Garden. Consisting of over 20 cultivars, BBG’s collection is the most diverse in the nation. Hanami is an iconic springtime celebration in New York City and one of the most magical times of year at the gardens.

Located  near the Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Flatbush, and Park Slope neighborhoods, the 52-acre garden includes a number of specialty “gardens within the Garden,” plant collections, and the Steinhardt Conservatory, which houses the C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum, three climate-themed plant pavilions, a white cast-iron and glass aquatic plant house, and an art gallery. Founded in 1910, the Garden holds over 10,000 taxa of plants and each year welcomes over 900,000 visitors from around the world.

I recently visited the BBG for their 33rd Annual Sakaura Matsuri Japanese Festival, which was held on April 26-April 27, 2014. The event was so popular that 15,000 people made their way through its gates to participate and watch the cultural activities unfold over the course of two days.

Sakura Matsuri is popularly considered NYC’s rite of spring and the largest event in a U.S. public garden. Taking place during Hanami, there were over 60 energetic and dynamic Sakura Matsuri festivities, which included performances, demonstrations, and exhibits, many of which have been commissioned to showcase the best of traditional and contemporary Japanese culture.

Sakura Matsuri 2014 featured a focus on Japanese fashion, with runway shows of the BBG Parasol Society and cosplay enthusiasts and presentations of traditional kimono wear. BBG’s Cosplay Fashion Show—the only outdoor cosplay fashion show in the country presented more than 20 of the city’s most extravagant and talented cosplayers to attendees. And of course, you are always surrounded by the natural wonders and beauty of the gardens themselves.

Many performers travel from Japan annually to participate in BBG’s Sakura Matsuri, including Ryukyu Chimdon Band, a bubbly Okinawan pop band; the Home Island Project of Shikoku, presenting a festive Awa Odori parade; and nonagenarian tea ceremony master Soumi Shimizu. Other festival artists hail from the five boroughs, including Soh Daiko, the East Coast’s premier taiko drum ensemble; composer Hitomi Himekawa and effervescent J-pop group the Rainbow Bubble Girls; and Yoshi Amao, longtime Sakura Matsuri master of ceremonies, martial artist, and samurai sword expert.

Theatrical performances included samurai sword demonstrations, traditional Japanese dance, demos in Japanese arts such as ikebana flower arranging, hands-on workshops in manga, origami, and other activities for children and families.  This was an ideal place to take kids since there were so many cultural activities they could participate in throughout the weekend.

Separate from the performances, attendees and festival participants dressed up for the occasion, so there was no shortage of Japanese culture to be found, whether it was clothing and fashion or dancing and food.


There were traditional Japanese paintings on display in one of the garden exhibits.

They also had workshops throughout the day in different parts of the BBG, including areas for kids to play. We tested out the Rice Shaker workshop which allowed you to make your own instrument to take home.

Also on the agenda, which changed on the hour or every few hours, included a magician performance who showed off classical illusions with a Japanese twist, a lecture on Bonsai trees, a paper collage exhibit, a Shogi Chess game class, a Moku Hanga Woodblock lecture, a Sohenryu-Style tea ceremony performed by masters Soumi Shimizu and Sokyo Shimizu, a Manga drawing class for kids with Misako Rocks (for kids aged 6 through 13), a Ukuyo-e Illustration with artist Jed Henry, where you could see video game characters reimagined before your eyes and a Samurai Origami Workshop with Aaron Horland.

The Osborne Garden is where they hosted many of the kids activities and events. It was also home to the Awa Odori Parade by Home Island Project of Shikoku Japan. At first, they played music and performed a number of dance performances in front of a small crowd. After they finished their more traditional dancing, they proceeded to lead attendees and passerbys through the gardens wildly clapping their hands and singing. Then, they invited  people to dance with them in the gardens, which was the final activity they (and we) did at the festival. Their energy was invigorating and fun!

Here’s a video of one of the performances in the late afternoon on the last day.

Photo Credits: Renee Blodgett with some help from 7 year old Jake Compagnone.

The Details:

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens | 

150 Eastern Parkway | 

990 Washington Avenue | 

Brooklyn, NY 11225