SF Japantown Cherry Blossom Festival

On a blustery Saturday, April 14, 2007, I returned to the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, held in Japantown in San Francisco. I attended inadvertently last year and had a good time, despite not getting any festival food to eat, and wanted to return. I still remembered the amazing evocativeness of the bonsai exhibit.

This year, I arrived at lunch time and went straight for the food, first getting a plate of yakisoba. Yakisoba is the Japanese equivalent of chow mein. Mine included the requisite fried noodles along with napa cabbage and a little (Chinese/Japanese) bacon. It was filling.

The guy made the yakisoba on a huge griddle using two large knife-like metal spatulas. It was cool to watch. I took my camera out to take a picture and discovered my batteries were dead. :( It turned out my backup batteries were dead as well -- guess I used them too much on my recent trip to Atlanta (which will be eventually documented in blog posts). *sigh* So, like last year, my Japantown visit is simply raw text, unaccompanied by any illustrations. It's too bad, as the San Francisco Chronicle calls Japantown "a rite of spring for shutterbugs". Watch the video.

While eating, I wandered around the festival a little, observed some women in costume (mostly samurai garb), and briefly watched a bad heavy metal band playing on the stage near the food booths. (No, I don't know why they have heavy metal at a Cherry Blossom festival.) I soon headed to the hotel which housed the best exhibits last year.

The bonsai exhibit wasn't there this year! Instead, there was a flower show that, to my surprise, pleased me as much. The show was about ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. I watched a flower arranging demonstration by the Ikebana Teachers Federation. The demonstration involved lots of trimming, borrowing, and placing of leaves, all narrated by a humorous speaker. It's an amazing thing to watch because they make evocative pieces of art in under an hour -- quite a contrast to the time required for bonsai. Still, one can see the two arts' common roots (pun unintended) -- both involve artful arrangements of plants and contrasts of color.

Some pieces struck me:

  • One arrangement looked like a nest of birds, mouths open, tongues waggling, begging for food and chirping.
  • Another appeared to be a brain surrounded by axons. It was made with roses.
  • There was a sailing ship. Fern leaves made the sail. An oblong piece of pottery served as the hull.
  • Also using pottery, there was a centaur with a torso and head made of flowers and legs and body made of clay.
  • A multicolored Japanese fan was made from a collection of thin, flat plants that branched, ephemerally, much like snowflakes. I'd never seen this type of plant before.
  • One person arranged flowers to look like a flying saucer, complete with two boarding planks.
  • Another made a staircase from circular white flowers. A stairway to heaven?
  • An arrangement designed to look like the big bang, beside representing an artist's conception of the event, also seems to assert the big bang is the source of all color.
  • A simple piece of a flower growing out of a water lily was quite pretty.
After spending a chunk of time in the ikebana exhibit, I explored the others:
  • There was one whole room devoted to sister city relationships and promoting tourism. Many Northern California cities (SF, Oakland, Fulton, Sacramento, ...) have such relationships.
  • The paper doll display, comparable to last year's, included an impressively detailed model of a whole taiko troupe, seemingly frozen in action.
  • The origami room played a video of a Mitsubishi commercial using origami figures (presented at the festival because it was made by a local origami shop). The exhibit also had a piece made from five interlocking tetrahedrons. That can't be easy to make! I found some pictures of these on the web.
Back outside, I grabbed some takoyaki, a spherical pancake-like Japanese dumpling made with octopus. It was chewy: mostly dough, a few chiles, some sweet sauce, and some octopus flavor. Okay; the ones I had at the Richmond Night Market near Vancouver were definitely better. I watched a martial arts demonstration while I ate.

I browsed the booths. They were located across the street from the Japantown tower, the same place as last year. Yet, this year I noticed the street had cute, though water-less, fountains that I didn't notice last time. (I guess it was too crowded.) As shopping isn't very important to this festival, there were only a few dozen booths. These did, however, cover the usual assortment, including jewelry, pottery, photography, and clothing. I spotted some items that amused me:
  • Small wooden frogs that sound like they croak when a stick is slide over their backs. It really sounds exactly like a croak -- it stopped some passers-by right in their tracks.
  • Funky t-shirts, including one with labeled pictures of dim sum and another with a picture of a sumo wrestler labeled "no gut no glory."
  • Photographs of ordinary scenes with ghosts superimposed. It felt as if the artist was saying ancestors help the living on their tasks. It was really well done.
  • Dragon pencils. Cool. Each pencil has a carving of a dragon in place of the eraser. Probably four inches tall, it loomed over the rest of the pencil.
In the entertaining t-shirt category, I spotted someone wearing a shirt that said, "keep staring. it might do a trick."

Before I left, I heard D. Groove, a R&B/soul/rock band that was good enough to get me to stop and listen for a while. Its web page implies it's even more versatile than I saw.

I hadn't been to a street fair in a while. It's nice being back.

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