SAN FRANCISCO — The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (NCCBF) in San Francisco will finish up this weekend with its Grand Parade and a complete celebration of Japanese culture.
“There’s a lot of backstories here – amazing backstories that you just don’t hear…,” Greg Viloria told ABC10. “We have so many of these little treasures in Japantown that a lot of this just gets passed down to people like me [people who are curious].”
However, their final weekend celebration will give people a chance to learn those stories and engage in a cultural celebration that continues to grow every year.
What is the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival?
It’s a 52-year tradition and a celebration of Japanese culture that essentially shuts down six blocks of Japantown over two weekends. These celebrations combine cultural music, food, performances, arts & crafts, and even a celebration of Japanese pop culture.
Credit: Naomi Takahashi/NCCBF
San Francisco has one of the three remaining Japantowns in the country, and, since the festival started in 1968, it has served as a way to get Japanese culture out to a greater mass of people.
When is it?
The final weekend of the event will be April 20-21. Events are scheduled to start around 10 a.m.
How much is it?
The festival is free to the public, however, the vendors, beer garden and a film festival will all have varying prices.
Where is it?
The event is located in Japantown in San Francisco and shuts down about six blocks in the area. While there is a parking garage available, the general recommendation is to take public transportation.
If planning a trip, click HERE to view transportation options. You can also view traffic conditions on the Waze map below.
What to expect
Whether you like anime and food or classic Japanese music, art, and traditions, the festival will have a distinct Japanese cultural experience in one place over two weekends.
“There’s a lot of backstories here – amazing backstories that you just don’t hear…,” said Viloria. “We have so many of these little treasures in Japantown that a lot of this just gets passed down to people like me [people who are curious].”
If you’re visiting the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival for the first time, here are some of the highlights you don’t want to miss.
Sakura 360 – This is the NCCBF’s homage to the new culture coming out of Japan, highlighting J-pop culture with vendors, stage performances, and anime. A relatively new element this year is Cosplay on the Catwalk, where cosplayers can show off their cosplays in front of a crowd and compete for prizes.
Credit: Naomi Takahashi/NCCBF
Mikoshi Purification Ceremony – On April 20, there will be a purification ceremony for the Mikoshi. The shrine and sake barrels always close the Grand Parade the next day; it involves 140 to 160 people hoisting it up for the parade. This event is for people 18 and older and offers a chance to see the cultural blessing ceremony and, possibly, enjoy some sake.
Origami – If you haven’t seen the Origami feature at the festival, be aware that Viloria considers it a “must see” feature. Guests are led by origami teachers, who are from a store called Paper Tree in San Francisco. Viloria said that the owners’ grandfather actually wrote the first English origami book in the United States.
Japanese dancers take part in the Grand Parade of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco.
Courtesy: Greg Viloria/Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival
Grand Parade – April 21 will arguably be the biggest day of the festival. It’s the day of the Grand Parade which draws crowds to watch the parade travel from the Civic Center and San Francisco City Hall into Japantown. Expect to see Taiko dojos playing, marching bands, cultural dances, and, of course, the hoisting of the Taru Mikoshi.
Anything else to know?
“One blossom. One community. One heart.” The expression goes hand-in-hand with the festival’s theme of “Kokoro,” the Japanese word for heart.
“This heart and inclusivity is really important to let the outer world know what our community is,” Viloria added.
The 2019 festival is brought to the community by a volunteer staff and expects to bring in around 200,000 people for the event. If you stop by the event, pick up a program booklet guide at the information booth; it will help inform you about the artists, where the music is, and where to go. A PDF map is also available here.
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