In 1912, 2,500 cherry blossom trees were planted for the first time in New York City. The cherry trees, or Sakura, were a gift from the Japanese government that were originally meant to arrive in 1909 for the commemoration of the Henry-Hudson voyage. But those trees were lost at sea, and the cherry blossoms didn’t make it to Manhattan grounds until three years later.
Today, cherry blossoms can be found all over the city, including Grant’s tomb, Riverside and Central Parks. Every year, new cherry blossoms are planted in honor of Japan Day, as well as to supplement the original gift from Japan one-hundred years ago.
The celebration isn’t just about the trees, though. As WestHouse insider Alicia puts it: “Japan Day is a mashup of cultural celebrations. Basically, loads of music, food and art.” Here are her highlights of the day’s events:
“I’m not one for dancing in public, but I love watching the Bon Odori each year. Created by Momo Suzuki, the founder of the Japanese Folk Dance Institute, this ‘Ondo’ is based on the traditional Bon Odori dance, but with a New York twist. They have an English verse at the end and everyone is encouraged to join in.”
“Face painting is a big hit with the kids, but I love seeing the adults get into it too. The designs are really beautiful, intricate and colorful. It’s an awesome way to get yourself into the spirit of the day.”
“Japanese calligraphy isn’t exactly easy to master, but they do a great job of teaching the style to kids and adults at the tent. I always get excited to experiment with those large calligraphy pens.
“Unsurprisingly, the food at the festival is really, really good. You can watch demonstrations of the gyoza or okonomiyaki making, or just eat everything in sight (which is usually what I do).”