Fluffy pink blooms won’t be the only stars of this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival.
The annual event celebrates U.S.-Japanese relations and the start of spring, and this year it marks a moment to aid a country in crisis. Disaster-stricken Japan, where a massive earthquake and tsunami hit earlier this month, will be front and center during the festival.
Washington is preparing to celebrate Japan’s gift of cherry blossom trees starting Saturday through April 10 with 16 days of events — and a host of fundraising opportunities to aid relief efforts.
“It’s amazing the outpouring of support we’ve had from people who want to help,” festival spokeswoman Danielle Piacente said. “We’re glad to be in the position to gather people — a million people come to the festival — and we’re in a special position to really help in this time of such horrible crisis.”
Over the next few weeks as the cherry blossoms bloom, this symbol of the friendship between Japan and the United States offers visitors an opportunity to reflect on the tragedy and provide assistance to the Japanese people.
Piacente said the festival is hosting a gathering and walk Thursday to raise money for the American Red Cross’ Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami fund. Stand With Japan will start at 6:30 p.m. with a short program at the Washington Monument before participants walk around the Tidal Basin. Collection areas will be set up to gather donations.
“It’s a way to show solidarity and support, especially since our relationship with Japan is really at the heart of the festival,” Piacente said. “We wanted to honor our enduring relationship with the people of Japan before the festival kicks off.”
The NCBF will also designate a portion of the proceeds generated from its auction to the Red Cross fund. The online auction, which runs through Sunday, features a live event Wednesday at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel. The annual Pink Tie Party offers guests a sampling of top D.C. chefs’ cherry blossom-inspired dishes and drinks at $150 a ticket.
Piacente noted that various partner organizations have expressed interest in hosting fundraising events in conjunction with the festival, and more such events will likely be announced over the next couple weeks. The NCBF’s fundraising is going national as well, with 100 percent of the proceeds from Vineyard Vines’ Tied to a Cause collection in April benefiting the relief effort.
One of the most popular Cherry Blossom events, the Sakura Matsuri-Japanese Street Festival on April 9, will also give visitors an opportunity to support those affected by the earthquake and tsunami.
“A portion of the ticket fees for this year’s festival will be donated to the relief efforts, and in addition, there will be some fundraising at the festival,” operations assistant Jessica Kling said.
Following the speeches from elected officials, the crowd stands at long tables as they dig into BBQ, brunswick stew, cadillac rice at the Law Enforcement Cookout at Wayne Dasher's pond house in Glennville, Ga., on Thursday, April 17, 2014.