Springtime Fun at Sakura Matsuri 2017

A Brooklyn spring simply isn’t complete without a trip to the Sakura Matsuri Festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. At least, that was what I had gathered during my five months of living here. It was with high hopes my roommates and I went to bed Saturday night, looking forward to a wonderful springtime picnic the next day. Only, Mother Nature had other plans. Sunday morning we woke to grey, cloudy skies and a chilly breeze.

Now, I’ve survived four UK springs, so it takes more than a few clouds to dampen my spirits, but it was a spectacularly lazy Sunday morning. One of those days where you want to curl up inside with a good book. I had a moment of doubt. Were the $30 tickets worth it? Did I really want to go outside?

After much deliberation, the three of us figured we should at least get out of the house and grab some lunch before making any decisions. If we were just being lazy, the hard part would be over. If we really wanted to stay inside forever, then we could go back home. Besides, making decisions on an empty stomach is always a bad idea.

We decided to try out a new place called Chisai. It’s a small Japanese restaurant on Franklin Avenue that serves poké bowls. These delicious creations are like a cross between sushi and rice bowls. I got a salmon bowl and some pork buns. I was a very happy camper.

Once out of the house, I realized my laziness was just hunger in disguise. The trees along Eastern Parkway were showing off their new leaves, and everything looked so green, that special spring green that’s always a little bit brighter every year. The Botanical Gardens were just a short walk away, so the three of us headed over to the Cherry Blossom Festival.

As we walked into the festival, we were greeted by over a dozen stalls selling everything from sweets to accessories to art. It was amazing. The air was humming with infectious J-pop tunes. At the far end of the vendor area there was a small stage hosting a dance-off of some sort. We were surrounded by a sea of families, cosplayers, older couples, and people decked out in traditional kimonos. My favorite was the group of four girls wearing kimono-Pokémon fusion costumes of four different Eevee-lutions. Everyone had come dressed for the festival in their own way.

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‘Sakura’ is the Japanese word for cherry blossoms. The festival is a huge deal in Japan, and it provides the perfect setting to celebrate Japanese culture in America.

Continuing into the botanical garden itself, we came upon a grove of lilac trees in full bloom. They had every color ranging from soft white to deep eggplant. Lilacs are my favorite flower. I had to stop and bury my face in the tiny bundles of blossoms. There are several lilac trees at my parents house, and the smell always reminds me of springtime tree-climbing. There was also a cute English rose garden surrounded by a white fence just passed the lilac grove, though it was too early for the roses themselves.

As we rounded the corner, we were met by quite the site. Compared to the subdued rose garden, the main festival area was bursting with trees covered in little pink flowers. Every branch seemed weighed down by the little explosions of spring. The grey skies cast a very soft light on the blossoms. It was beautiful.

I’ve never been to a cherry blossom festival before, but I get the hype. Crowds were milling around the bases of the trees as people tried to get the perfect Instagram shot. Small children sat before the main stage watching the jubilant MC run around the stage teaching them how to play goofy hand games. All around there was a feeling of happiness and childlike excitement. Whether it was excitement for spring or for having a place to be a little weird I’m not sure.

My sister was determined that we should watch the Taiko drumming performance. We had some time before it began, so the three of us decided to go find the Japanese garden. It seemed in theme with the day. Brave adventurers that we are, we set out without first consulting a map. Our route was a bit circuitous, but we passed an adorable stream flanked by purple flowers and traversed by a small bridge.

The Japanese garden itself was a little crowded, but it is a very calming space. It seems our idea was not that original. This entire section of the garden is centered around a good sized pond. There is lush greenery all around, contrasting with the bright red of the decorative arch at the edge of the pond. The pond itself was populated by dozens of koi fish and even a few turtles. We strolled along the path, passing a small waterfall and a shrine beneath a large tree. After leaving through the wrong exit (nailed it), we headed back to the main stage for the drummers.

I have never seen Taiko drumming in person. I’ve watched plenty of videos, but it is something else entirely to be there in person feeling the vibrations in your chest. The show opened with a younger troupe performing a few songs before the pros took the stage. Apparently this particular group, Taiko Masala, has been performing at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens for ten years.

The whole crowd was mesmerized, and plenty of people were bobbing their heads or tapping their feet. There was one musician whose hair was up in a Viking-warrior pony tail jumping around between the drums. That was the thing I loved the most. The drummers were all so into what they were doing. They were 100% committed.

Chilled by sitting still for so long, the three of us decided to head to a café for a warm drink. As we left the festival, we past the remaining vendor stalls. My sister bought me a beautiful hairpin with a little fan-shaped charm on it, and I bought some matcha covered almonds.

On our way to the café, we stumbled upon a random gallery on a small side street. Exposed brick, metal accents, and dim lighting created quite the hipster aesthetic. I stood in the doorway for a good thirty seconds just thinking how stereotypically Brooklyn this whole set up was. I guess these things don’t just happen in TV shows. Who knew?

Though only around for a few weeks, the cherry blossoms manage to bring people together, whether its complete strangers competing in a cosplay contest or three roommates wandering lost in a giant garden. It’s funny to think how something as brief as the life cycle of a tree can bring joy to so many people.

The three of us ended our day out at Breukelen Coffee House – book in one hand, Nutella hot chocolate in the other. You’d be hard pressed to have a better Sunday, and it was all thanks to those little pink flowers.

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