It was the right song for the occasion: Duo Sokyo ended a brief concert marking the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift of more than 3,000 cherry trees to the United States as a symbol of friendship, with the traditional Japanese folksong that is probably best-known in the west, “Sakura,” or “Cherry Blossom.”
Duo Sokyo, Yoko Hiraoka playing the koto, a traditional harp-like instrument, and David Wheeler playing the shakuhachi, bamboo flute, were part of the celebration held at the Cherry Hills home of Consul General Ikuhiko Ono and his charming, elegant wife Eiko. Continue reading →
Cherry blossoms at the Japanese Imperial Palace moat in Tokyo (photo Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons)
When I was a kid in Japan, my family would make the requisite trek out every spring to see the cherry trees, or sakura, blooming at places like the Imperial Palace (above) or Ueno Park, which is better known the rest of the year for a bustling train station and crowded market with smelly fish vendors. Sakura-viewing is such a historically significant cultural event in Japan that it has its own name: Hanami, or “flower-viewing.”
People — individuals, couples in love, entire families — stroll parks and avenues for Hanami and marvel at the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossoms, which bloom and then fall too soon as everyone picnics beneath the lovely pink cascade.
From the woodblock master Hiroshige's series, "36 Views of Mount Fuji" (Public domain)
The country feels so strongly about its precious sakura, that in 1912 Japan made a gift of friendship of 3,000 cherry trees to the United States. They were planted in Washington D.C., around the Tidal Basin (near the Jefferson Memorial), East Potomac Park and around the Washington Monument.
Those trees have become a springtime ritual for Americans as well, a popular seasonal tourist attraction. There’s a National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington that runs from March 20-April 27 this year, with events throughout the month, as well as lots of “hanami,” except we call it “bloom watching.”
When my family moved Stateside in the 1960s and lived in northern Virginia, we would visit D.C. every spring to enjoy the sakura there. Continue reading →
It’s May. Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I wonder, though, if this celebration of our heritage is an idea whose time has passed. I’m glad that we have our month every year, but I’m worried that we’re emphasizing the wrong things year after year.
Erin and I are starting to feel that APA Heritage Month may be counter-productive. The Pacific Citizen published a well-written piece last week, “Time to Rethink Asian Pacific American Heritage Month?” and I agree, it’s time to re-think the tradition even though it’s only 31 years old.
Last year, I wrote about how a 10-year-old Denver event, an Asian community celebration held in downtown Denver every May, needed to evolve from just Asians performing for other Asians.
It was a useful educational display back when our many communities stayed cloistered and Japanese didn’t know much about Vietnamese, and Vietnamese didn’t know much about Filipinos, and Filipinos didn’t know much about Cambodians and Cambodians didn’t know much about Koreans… you get the idea. But today, with especially young people mixing a lot more outside their own communities, it seems like a closed celebration, like preaching to the choir about the richness of our heritage. If you attend the annual event, you’ve seen many of the same performers year after year.
Even if the audience was expanded outside the Asian community, though, to the wider non-Asian population, I wonder if that would be good or bad for Asian Americans. Continue reading →