Viewing Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC

Japan isn’t the only place to enjoy cherry blossoms this spring. The capital of the United States puts on a pretty spectacular floral display of its own – thanks to the friendship and generosity of the Japanese people nearly 100 years ago.

The Tidal Basin of Washington, DC – home to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial – has 3,000 cherry trees, which were given the United States in 1912. They erupt in an explosion of pink and white pedals each spring, attracting visitors from across the nation and around the world.

Blooms are usually at the peak of their splendour on 4 April, but it is impossible to give an accurate forecast more than 10 days before blooming starts. Just as the Japanese Meteorological Agency tracks the Cherry Blossom Front as it moves north, the U.S. National Park Service monitors the development of buds in five stages, giving periodic updates and forecasts.

The peak blooming period can vary wildly from year to year. Blossoms have been known to reach their peak as early as 15 March and as late as 18 April!

The peak blooming period starts when 20% of the blossoms have opened and continues until the petals have fallen off and leaves start appearing. It can last as long as two weeks, but frost, unseasonably warm temperatures, strong winds, and/or rain can cut the blooming season short.

The 98th annual National Cherry Blossom Festival will be held in Washington, DC, this year from 27 March to 11 April. A full programme of events is planned. Here is a short list of some of the key celebrations.

Admission is free unless otherwise noted.

Opening Ceremony and National Cherry Blossom Festival and Family Day

Saturday 27 March

Family Day from 10 am to 3.30 pm, followed by a one and one-half hour opening ceremony, which will get underway at 4 pm. Activities will include demonstrations, displays, and performances highlighting both Japanese and Western culture. At the National Building Museum.

Fireworks

Saturday 3 April

A three hour musical prelude will commence at 5 pm. In addition to live music there will be crafts activities and entertainment for the children as well as food from local restaurants. A fireworks display will commence at 8.30 pm. A the Southwest Waterfront.

Lantern Lighting Ceremony

Sunday 4 April

The U.S. National Park Service and the National Conference of State Societies will light a 359 year old stone lantern in a solemn ceremony featuring Japanese performers from 2.30 pm to 4 pm. At the Tidal Basin at Independence Avenue and 17th Street, SW.

National Cherry Blossom Festival Gala Dinner Cruise

Thursday 8 April

A four-course dinner aboard the Odyssey while cruising the Potomac, with views of the Washington’s lighted monuments and the cherry trees along Haines Point. There will be an open bar dancing to live bands. Departs from Gangplank Marina. Boarding from 6 pm. Cruising from 7 pm to 10 pm. (Tickets: US$125, reservations required.)

National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade

Saturday 10 April

This wouldn’t be America if there weren’t a parade! Giant, marching bands, and various performers will march down Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th streets, NW, from 10 am to 12 noon, rain or shine. Viewing from 9th to 15th streets is free. Grandstand seating is US$17.

Japanese Street Festival

Saturday 10 April

Immediately following the parade, the 50th annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese street festival will run from 11 am to 6 pm. There will be Japanese food and music as well as anime, arts and crafts, bonsai, geisha, ikebana, manga, marshal arts, sumo, and taiko drums. At 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

Copyright: Michael Taylor
Pictured: paddle boats at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC
Photo Courtesy of Destination DC

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