Street festivals in Manhattan spring like a flicker and die like cigarette ash. Tourists are particularly susceptible to their wonder, believing that they’ve stumbled upon some exciting bazaar on their walk from Rockefeller Plaza to the Port Authority. The street festivals occur almost daily and are of no novelty to local residents.
The Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival is different. It highlights the influence of Japanese culture on everyday life in America. Young people especially appreciate Dance, Dance, Revolution or DDR, a video game like a round of Twister set to music and Simon Says. Others enjoy anime, a sophisticated, graphic genre of animation with humanistic cartoons. Then there’s J-pop: Japanese popular culture. The term often describes Japanese rock and pop music, but also includes just about everything young Japanese teens adore, from manga (Japanese comic books) to takarazuka (female Japanese theater). At the festival, you’ll find a bit of all of these.
The festival typically also includes stellar performances. At their core, the performances best demonstrate Japanese fashion and costume, Japanese music, and Japanese historical traditions. You can learn a lot about Japan and its people by carefully observing these performances. They enrich observers primarily with the gift of new perspective, but additionally, they show how the Japanese view themselves. This year’s performances include the traditional dance and martial arts revues that you might expect, but one other noteworthy performer includes Ai Kawashima, one of Japan’s most famous pop vocalists. Maki Kaji, inventor of the popular game Sudoku, will also appear.
Amid the performances and cultural activities, you will also find dozens of vendors selling food and all manner of Japanese merchandise. Everything else at the festival is free. There is no admission, and you can have all the learning and fun you want. One caveat, however, is that as an outdoor festival, it is subject to the weather, but it is scheduled to go on rain or shine.
The Sakura Matsuri Japanese Festival begins at the end of the Parade of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which usually occurs toward the latter half of the Cherry Blossom Festival itself. As one of the largest one-day Japanese street festivals in the United States, it spans east and west along Pennsylvania Avenue from 10th Street to 14th Street and north and south along 12th Street between Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues. These streets will be closed off, making the Washington, DC metro and the bus the best ways to travel. This year’s festival runs from 11 am to 6 pm on Saturday, April 4, 2009.