It is a dream and a goal of mine to travel to Japan to see the famous cherry blossoms. However, I am not the only one with such a desire, so it can be outrageously crowded and expensive. Fortunately, the city of Huntington Beach, California has emerged as an alternative for those of us who can’t make it all the way to Japan.
In 2002, Huntington Beach’s sister city of Anjo, Japan gave 50 cherry trees in honor of that partnership. As these lovely trees begin to bloom in Huntington Beach’s Central Park, the city holds a cherry blossom festival to celebrate the sister city relationship and Japanese culture here in Southern California. I had the privilege of attending this year, the fifth iteration of this incredible event.
Free cultural events on beautiful early spring days in Southern California tend to be crowded, and this was no exception. Thousands of attendees – I have not seen an official count – descended on the park to enjoy Japanese food, music, crafts, and more. Food trucks were on hand to sell visitors tasty Japanese-Californian treats like my sushi burrito, wrapped in soy paper rather than a tortilla.
A stage held nonstop entertainment, ranging from traditional singers and dancers to young Japanese Americans singing “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, but in Japanese.
Of course, speaking about Japanese history here in California, one would be remiss not to discuss the inexcusable interment of Japanese Americans during World War Two. There was a wonderfully done exhibit about the Japanese community that existed on Los Angeles’ Terminal Island. These unfortunate Americans of Japanese descent were given only a couple of days to leave their homes, simply due to the village’s proximity to the harbor. Most ended up in the internment camp at Manzanar, another place I would one day like to see.
The highlight of the event was, for me, seeing people of all ages and backgrounds excited to celebrate an immigrant culture. Japan has provided much to influence present-day America, from sushi to samurai, and ninja to Nintendo. It is wonderful, especially in today’s political climate, to see these contributions showcased, and to see people being exposed to new and exciting elements from this incredible culture.
And after all, who wouldn’t want a sushi burrito?