Relax under the cherry blossom trees at Balboa Park’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival
“Blossom by blossom the spring begins.” — Algernon Charles Swinburne
The Japanese Friendship Garden will be “in the pink” as it celebrates hanami — the Japanese tradition of appreciating the country’s abundant cherry blossom trees — at the 14th annual Cherry Blossom Festival Friday through Sunday in Balboa Park.
“In Japan, hanami is practiced as cherry blossoms represent the fragility of life as well as the coming of the spring season,” said Jon Osio, the Friendship Garden’s event and marketing coordinator. “A few trees are close to full bloom with a majority beginning to bloom. Although a little wetter this year, having the sun out more balanced things out pretty nicely.”
The spring-time festival offers a variety of attractions, including more than 40 vendors in the upper garden; live performances, including the San Diego Taiko and Buddhist Temple of San Diego Odori troupes; a beer and sake garden and a tea and dessert garden housed at the Inamori Pavilion; traditional Japanese street fare in the lower garden courtyard; and a children’s arts and crafts area with an inflatable jump house.
Last year, the cherry blossoms attracted 15,000 people during its three-day run.
“We hope visitors are able to grasp that (the Japanese Friendship Garden) is more than a garden,” he said. “Similar to how characteristics in a Japanese garden are thoughtfully placed and serve various purposes, (the garden) is a bridge for cultural exchange, a venue for events large and small, a place to recharge and step away from the everyday hustle and bustle, and a classroom to learn something new.”
The tranquil oasis occupies 12 acres, with about 1 acre dedicated to the cherry trees. About 200 cherry trees of the Pink Cloud variety are planted in the lower garden. This variety does well in the region because of the milder climate. The tree is stronger, more rugged and less graceful than other varieties, and bears a deeper pink blossom, and can grow to between 15 and 25 feet tall.
“The cherry trees are definitely the stars of this event and it helps that (the Japanese Friendship Garden) is the only place in San Diego to have them,” he said. “But to be more specific, the atmosphere (the garden) provides as a venue is like no other. The aesthetics of a Japanese garden placed in the Southern California setting is truly unique as Japanese aesthetics are paired with the local vegetation and landscape which bring about a bridge between two cultures.”
New to the festival is an outdoor exhibit — the bronze Kannon Bosatsu statue — that rests in the lower garden near a newly installed stream and surrounded by lush trees and plants. The nearly 300-year-old figure greets visitors with the right hand raised indicating fearlessness and the left hand resting open to support a long-stemmed lotus blossom, symbolizing the peace of enlightenment.
The statue was forged in 1735 by Japanese ironsmith Takumi Obata during the Tokugawa period (1602-1868). Notable works include the lanterns of the Tokugawa Shogunate mausoleums and the bronze bell of Chosho-ji Temple in Tokyo.
In the early 1900s, New Orleans financier Rudolf S. Hecht purchased the statue from the Kotoku-in, a Buddhist temple in Kamakura Japan. It was to be the key element of the Middlegate Japanese Garden in Pass Christian, Miss. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, it destroyed the garden and damaged the statue. The Middlegate Japanese Garden did not reopen.
In 2017, the statue was acquired by the Marian and Eugene Gabrych Trust who later donated it to San Diego’s Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. The major restoration project was completed in four months with funding from the Parker Foundation at a cost of $30,000.
An installation/dedication ceremony was held on Dec. 20, 2018.
14th annual Cherry Blossom Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The festival will continue rain or shine.
Where: Japanese Friendship Garden, 2215 Pan American Road E., Balboa Park.
Tickets: $12 general admission; $10 seniors, military and students with proper ID.
Phone: (619) 232-2721.
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