In a city full of festivals, the 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.
And boy, are we ready for spring this year in Buffalo.
Fortunately, it looks as though the blossoms might just coincide with the festival this year. Wouldn't that be extraordinary! This rarely happens even in Washington DC.
Where did the Japanese Garden, that tranquil oasis that graces the north shore of Mirror Lake in the shadow of the History Museum, come from? Well, from Japan, of course.
Buffalo, it turns out, has a very special history with Japan, and therein lies the answer to the mystery of The Japanese Garden.
Buffalo very first Sister City was Kanazawa, Japan. In fact, this 1962 relationship made Buffalo one of the first Sister Cities in the nation. 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, 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 five-day, 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.
In just five years, this 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 cruel winter-in-Buffalo jokes and misconceptions.
This event will bring the grounds of The Buffalo History Museum alive from Wednesday, May 2 through Sunday, May 6. But you can start getting in the mood this weekend with a two-film festival at the historic North Park Theatre: The Third Murder on Saturday and Oh Lucy! on Sunday. On Monday there will be a Cherry Blossom Chill, and the whole shebang kicks off with Brews and Booze, Buffalo's Blossoming Craft Industry, a tasting and discussion on Wednesday at the History Museum. All week long, you are invited to bring a picnic, stroll through the cherry trees, and listen to the the Japanese Garden's new mobile audio tour.
But set aside the entire first weekend of May. Saturday is Music Day, when Music is Art will host Japan Rock musicians ‘The Molice,’ followed by Taiko drummers, haiku, dance, Dj’s and spoken word performers. And of course, pink boat rides all day long. The festival culminates on Sunday with the aptly named Family Day. March in a pink parade, dance the May Pole, visit the Instrument Zoo, and enjoy puppet shows, origami and crafts.
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.
It's far more than just a festival. And it's finally SPRING!