The rain, cherry blossoms, and tears can all fall with infectious joy or breathtaking sadness. The Sakura Matsuri was held at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens on Saturday and Sunday. Every year around this time they have a collection of Japanese performances and lectures on a wide range of Japanese arts in the background of the falling cherry blossoms. You get a wide variety including: dance, music, poetry, and artistic botany. The crowd is also very diverse. I saw families, couples, friends, young people, old people, otaku, and hipsters. There were many people in cosplay but they hardly overwhelmed the normal patrons nor were they ever disruptive on the day that I went. I am curious if it was any better or worse on Saturday.
Most everyone I know went on Saturday and I went Sunday. This meant that Sunday was a solitary journey which lends a different feel to the proceedings. For some reason the whole day brought to my mind the 71st episode of Urusei Yatsura, Shinobu’s Cinderella Story because of the constant rain. I half expected to get drawn into an adventure of romance and danger. But that just goes to show what an odd person I am in the end. Plus I always like to picture myself as Shinobu. Maybe because we have similar personalities. Maybe I just want the ability to hurl tanks when upset. Still all the cherry blossom trees were in full bloom and you often saw blossoms littering the air and walkways. Although a popular activity was people shaking the trees to get the rain of petals effect. It was definitely a good weekend to capture the proper ambiance of Sakura Matsuri.
The first thing I saw when I entered was the J-Pop culture section. This is where all the anime related stuff was on Sunday. I have to give props to everyone who sat at the tables in the rain with the chill in the air. They were definite troopers. I voted for the NYAF mascot (If anyone was curious I voted for the cabbie) and picked up some free stuff for the panel giveaways. They had DJs playing J-Pop music all day but it was an eclectic mix not just a bunch of anime or popular songs. Someone’s cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band made me smile.
I actually started the events of the day with a demonstration of flower arrangement. It was totally unsurprising that the audience was almost exclusively made up of old ladies. Fumiko Allinder was quite skilled and put together several beautiful pieces on stage. If you wanted to go somewhere that was crowded then go to wherever there were Taiko Drums. People love them and I can’t disagree. They had an outdoor performance and an indoor lesson with members from the audience. Everyone on stage seemed to have a great time and the lessons were easy enough that they looked good. I also attended Enta Kusakabe’s poetry reading where he explained and gave examples of his personal brand of poetry. As I traveled around there were also several musical and dance performances that were very good. I also peeked in at the bonsai exhibit and found it quite lovely but I missed out of the demonstration.
I ended the day on a definite high note with Bushido: The Soul of Samurai or as I like to call it West Side Samurai Story. It was a mixture of stage acting, dance, and sword play. It was the story of a drunken, fallen samurai who discovers the true meaning of Bushido when he gets involved in a struggle between a band of anti-government rebels and a pair of noble samurai. It was well done with humor and action. The crowd really ate it up but with good reason. It had a good amount of energy and was one of the most entertaining parts of the event.
Every event I saw had a minimum of 40 people in attendance and that was on a cold rainy day. All the presentations were very well done and all the presenters were obviously accomplish artists who were also able to explain their craft. There were great introductions to a variety of Japanese art styles. My complaints are two fold. As far as I could tell there was no way back in once you left so when I ran out of batteries for my camera I didn’t have any options. They did not have AAA batteries at either of the gifts stores. Secondly, food was really expensive but that is always expected at these events. Even so I have to say despite the expense and bad economy business was very brisk. I can’t say I ever remember seeing a food stand that did not have a line. I did pick up a candy crane for Narutaki who could not attend and I generally felt that the uniqueness and cuteness of it made it worth the reasonable price.
I feel Saturday was the day to go for friends. It was great picnic weather and I am sure that atmosphere and the crowd had a synergy that was contagious. Sunday was the day to go with loved ones. The slight chill and constant rain made being together with someone almost a necessity. If you were alone there was sort of a romantic, melancholy beauty to the rain falling with the cherry blossoms. But it could be as painful and it was inspiring. If you are student and admirer of Japanese culture beyond anime and manga the Sakura Matsuri is a must attend event.