Buffalo is full of tiny treasures. One of my favorites hides in the shadow of the massive ediface which houses the Buffalo History Museum, draped peacefully along the shore of Mirror Lake. The Japanese Garden is a tranquil oasis barely visible from the Scajacuada Expressway, which disconnects it from Delaware Park and Hoyt Lake and persistently threatens its serenity. When I first stumbled across it a decade ago, I could not imagine how Buffalo had ended up with such a place. Although multi-ethnic and incredibly diverse, I did not think that Buffalo was home to a large Japanese community.
And it's not. But Buffalo does have a very special history with Japan, and therein lies the answer to the mystery of The Japanese Garden.
Buffalo now has more than a dozen Sister Cities, but it's very first Sister City was Kanazawa, Japan. In fact, this 1962 relationship made Buffalo the first Sister City in the nation. Founded by President Dwight Eisenhower, the whole idea behind Sister Cities was to create "bonds between people from different cities around the world so that people of different cultures could celebrate and appreciate their differences and build partnerships that would lessen the chance of new conflicts." A lofty and still very timely endeavor.
The people of Kanazawa decided to give its Sister City a garden modeled after its own Kenroku-en, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. The Garden was designed for the Delaware Park site in 1970 and construction began in 1971 with more than 1,000 plantings, including more than 80 flowering cherry trees and lots of hostas; 20 globe lights; and three small islands connected by bridges to six acres of land. The Japanese Garden was completed in 1974. That was the year I left Buffalo. I grew up next to Delaware Park and have always loved this area of Buffalo, but I have no recollection of this beautiful garden growing on the shore of Mirror Lake.
By 1983 renovations were needed, but efforts to spruce up the tattered Garden sputtered until the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy partnered with Friends of the Japanese Garden in 2008. After 20 years of neglect, the Japanese Garden came to life again, becoming the perfect location for -- what else? -- a Cherry Blossom Festival, of course. And in 2014, that's exactly what happened.
Who would be crazy enough to host a week-long, outdoor event in Buffalo? Or anywhere, for that matter? After years of hosting four-day Citybration events in June, I am more than qualified to question the sanity of Trudy Stern, Paula Hinz, Atsuko Nishida-Mitchell and an entire retinue of gardeners and Japan enthusiasts. Not only do they have the vagueries of the weather to contend with, but the timing of the blossoms is completely out of their control. In short, they're nuts.
But in a city full of festivals, the fourth annual Buffalo Cherry Blossom Festival is important. Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are a symbol of spring. In Japan, celebrations include attending a hanami, or flower viewing with family and friends. In a city known for winter, the cherry blossoms and the Festival that celebrates them is a harbinger of spring. In just four years, this week-long spring fling that builds on events which have taken place over more than half a century has placed Buffalo among the top ten Cherry Blossom Festival cities in the nation. Instead of snowflakes, it features a blizzard of cherry blossom petals. A very effective way to undo decades of winter-in-Buffalo jokes and misconceptions.
This event will bring the grounds of The Buffalo History Museum alive for an entire week, from Saturday, April 29 through Saturday, May 6. The event will kick off on Saturday, April 29 at Noon with a Madame Butterfly Opera Preview and the Oodori no Kai folk dance group. Sunday is Family Day, with puppet shows, origami, a pink parade, a May Pole dance, an Instrument Zoo, Tai Chi, and pink boat rides. Festivities continue through the week, culminating on Music Day (Saturday, May 6) when you can enjoy (or join in) a Cherry Jam Session, try your hand at the Drum Circle, take that Pink boat ride, or just enjoy the concert by The Middlemen, and Jazz Bands from Kanazawa, Japan & Hamburg High School. The more adventurous will be out Orienteering. Most events are free. Click >here for the full 2017 Buffalo Cherry Blossom Festival schedule.
Arigato, Kanazawa. And Arigato to the tireless team of Japanese Garden-ers, who not only host this fabulous Festival, but who also work closely with the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy all year long to maintain this lovely green oasis in our city.
And that's the rest of the story. It's far more than just a festival.