Words by Surf City Family Contributor Mary Adams Urashima
Photos by Gregory Robertson
The tradition of hanami, or “flower viewing”, is a centuries-old pastime in Japan that’s become a favorite of Huntington Beach residents. It’s also a day to celebrate our Sister City friendship with Anjo, Japan. Get out your picnic blankets! Those pink buds on the trees mean it’s almost time for the Cherry Blossom Festival in Huntington Beach Central Park!
The Sister City relationship with Anjo began 34 years ago, with official recognition in 1992. In recent years, the Cherry Blossom Festival has gained a new following with several thousand attending the Festival last year. Set amongst a lakeside grove of blossoming cherry trees in Central Park, the Festival is a taste of Japanese culture, food, live music and the performing arts.
The Festival opens at 10:30 a.m. with a traditional cherry tree planting with Consulate General of Japan, and the Sister City organizations from Anjo, Japan and Huntington Beach, near the Secret Garden in Central Park. Many of the cherry trees in Central Park are a gift from Anjo.
Nancy Hayata—classically-trained in traditional Japanese dance—will perform the mesmerizing “Dance of a Thousand Cranes” on the main stage to the music of Hiroshima. She will be joined by the Little Tokyo Dance Club and Rhythm of the Islands dancers. This year, musical duo Yuna and Tida sing Okinawan accompanied by the sanshin, a 16th Century three- stringed instrument. Musical performances also include heart-pounding taiko drummers, Kokoro Taiko-kai, and Minyo Station, a Japanese folk music ensemble who performs at the annual Nisei Week in Los Angeles.
If you are gift shopping for yourself or others, you’ll want to check out the jewelry, art and selection of hard-to-find books relating to Japanese culture from Heritage Source. National Treasure Historic Wintersburg, a Japanese American historical farm and mission in Huntington Beach, will be sharing local Japanese pioneer history with author-signed books. Bonsai aficionados can check out the living works of art by members of the Orange County Bonsai Society.
This year, local favorite Ramen Burger comes back to the Festival. A ramen-and-burger fusion dreamed up by Edison High School alumni, Keizo and Jeffrey Shimamoto, the Ramen Burger features a ramen “bun” with a teriyaki-style sauce that is slightly addictive. When Ramen Burger debuted in Southern California in 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported “more than 1,000 people stood in a line that wrapped around the Mitsuwa Marketplace in Torrance on Saturday morning, hoping to get a taste.” Now is your chance to try it!
The Festival also features hot-off-the-grill takoyaki—a ball-shaped filled and fried batter snack—by TaNoTa, the Japanese gastropub or izakaya cuisine from OkiDoki, a large savory pancake called okonomiyaki from the chefs at Gaja, the folks at Samurai Burrito are bringing their gourmet food truck, and you can try the mouth-watering selection from Sakurai Grill, a family-owned restaurant in Huntington Beach for over 25 years. The Sister City snack bar also will have mochi, a sweet rice confection, snack foods for kids, and Mrs. Fields will be at the Festival with the chocolate chip cookies we all love.
Speaking of kids, make sure you bring them to the park! There will be arts and crafts, a goldfish bean bag toss, and award-winning children’s book author and illustrator, Sunny Seki (The Tale of the Lucky Cat) will share his works at the Festival. Take a few family pictures at the photo booth by Pix and Giggles!
The Huntington Beach Cherry Blossom Festival is Sunday, March 20, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Central Park, behind the public library, 7111 Talbert Avenue. The ample parking at the public library lot is free. More information about the Cherry Blossom Festival at hbjapanesefestival.com
About the Author:
Mary Adams-Urashima is the author of Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach.