Philly’s own cherry blossom festival celebrates 20 years

A Tamagawa Taiko Drum and Dance Ensemble member performs. (Image courtesy of the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival.)

Cherry trees have blossomed in Fairmount Park each spring for 90 years, ever since Japan extended a special gift of 1,600 of these beauties to Philadelphia in 1926. This year’s seasonal opening of the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden on Saturday, April 1, will mark the launch of the 20th annual Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival. Look for events from tea ceremonies and sushi-making to a film screening and historic tours, plus many traditional Japanese crafts and art forms.

West Fairmount Park’s Shofosu welcomes 30,000 visitors annually from more than 20 countries; last year, it officially merged with the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia, which presents the festival.

Blossoming on schedule

Judging when the 2017 blossoms will peak is trickier than usual this year (see: February temperatures in the 70s followed by a mid-March nor’easter), but Shofuso head gardener Francheska Snyder predicts the trees will be fully decked in their heavenly pink-and-white best between March 29 and April 4, coinciding well with the opening of this year’s festival. Some later-blooming varieties will keep the view going strong as the season continues.

Shofuso Japanese House and Garden opens annually April through October, with hours Wednesday through Sunday, but offers special visiting hours and tours for the festival, running April 1 – 9. The trees will be blooming, koi will be swimming, and the house and grounds will be open daily during the festival from 11am to 5pm.

Festival events for all ages

There will be nodate style tea ceremonies on Saturday, April 8, on the Shofuso veranda under the weeping cherry tree (three-quarters of a century old this year), and the festival will close with its centerpiece event, Sakura Sunday, April 9, from 10am to 5pm at the Fairmount Park Horticultural Center. There’ll be food, music, dance, drums, martial arts, karaoke, and lots more.

The festival also includes a chance to learn the art of sushi-making from Philly restaurateur Madame Saito, a former American Culinary Federation Chef of the Year and longtime Temple University instructor. She’ll conduct a nightly class April 1 through 5 (6:30 to 8:30pm) at the HeadHouse Craft Beer Café, and new sushi aficionados can show off their skills at Madame Saito’s Amateur Sushi-Making Contest on April 6, or at the Subaru Sushi Samurai of the Year contest at Sakura Sunday.

On April 5, the University of Pennsylvania will host a free screening of Makoto Shinkai’s 2007 animated film 5 Centimeters per Second at Claudia Cohen Hall (shown in Japanese with English subtitles). This meditative romantic drama follows elementary-school friends whose adult lives hit different tracks just as they realize they’re in love.

Center City’s Liberty Place Rotunda will also participate in the festival with a week of free lunchtime programming. Japanese Culture Week will run Monday, April 3, through Friday, April 7, from noon to 1pm daily. Each interactive session will feature a traditional Japanese art form, including origami, kimono dressing, dance, games, and “spine-tingling” Kamishibai storytelling.

The 20th Annual Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival runs April 1 through 9 at venues throughout the city. For the full schedule of events, as well the spring and summer calendar for Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, visit online

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