Celebrate Japanese Culture Under the Cherry Blossoms

April 18, 2018


To celebrate the magnificent cherry trees in bloom and the breadth of Japanese culture on the Island, the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA), in cooperation with the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) and Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, is pleased to sponsor the Annual Roosevelt Island Cherry Blossom Festival.


Saturday, April 21, will be a day for residents and visitors of all ages to see, hear, dance, and even taste aspects of traditional and modern Japanese culture and performing arts.


Japanese culture has long venerated viewing the cherry blossoms of spring. Originally a private celebration hosted by the Emperor and select members of the aristocracy, today the activity of visiting the trees in bloom is seen as a metaphor for life, as the beautiful buds last but a short time and fade and die quickly. The government of Japan has donated cherry trees to many cities around the world as a symbol of friendship, and festivals like ours are held in many locations.


Roosevelt Island’s Cherry Blossom Festival began in 2011 with the efforts of Lynne Shinozaki, then-Chair of RIRA’s Social, Cultural & Educational Committee, plus then-resident Junko Hasegawa. It was a fundraiser to aid in the relief efforts following the tsunami that had destroyed communities in Japan that March.


Hasegawa recruited world-class Japanese performers to donate their performances. She also recruited resident Tatuya Yamamoto, who persuaded area Japanese restaurants and vendors to donate their food and other wares to benefit the relief effort. Japanese women, who lived on the Island, hosted a tea ceremony, dressed in traditional kimonos. Several Japanese dignitaries and local elected officials attended the festival and spoke to the community. 


RIRA and RIOC arranged for cherry trees to be planted and dedicated to the Japanese people. PS/IS 217 held a walkathon and donated the proceeds to the Japan Society to help the tsunami victims. 


Working together, Island merchants, building managements, community groups, and individuals raised around $10,000.


The Roosevelt Island Cherry Blossom Festival has become a community event that everyone looks forward to celebrating in April. The location has moved from FDR Four Freedoms Park to Manhattan Park and, more recently, back to the southern tip of the Island. 


The Tea Ceremony will be held in Southpoint Park; also, the Roosevelt Island Japanese Association will present the Japanese Cultural Fair at Gallery RIVAA. Of course, the Japanese tradition of picnics under the cherry blossoms will continue on the West Promenade across from Cornell Tech. Residents and visitors may bring their own food or purchase refreshments from food vendors.


Here is the schedule of events and locations:


11am: Tea Ceremony at South Point Park.


11:am: Picnics and Food Vendors at West Promenade by Cornell Tech.


12-3pm: Japanese Cultural Fair. Kimono try-on, origami fishing game, and crafts sponsored by RI Parents Network at Gallery RIVAA, 527 Main Street.


12:30-5:30pm: Music and dance performances on the steps of FDR Four Freedoms Park.
Performances include: Shamisen (Kicho Kai, Japanese String Ensemble), Japanese classical dance (IchiFuji-kai Dance Association), Koto (Masayo Ishigure and Koto Shamisen Ensemble), Modern Japanese rock (The Molice), Modern Japanese blues (Kayo Yoshioka of Neo Blues Maki), Japanese Folk Dances (RI Japanese Association Yosakoi Dancers), Community Folk Dance Lesson (sponsored by Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance), Japanese Taiko Drummers (Soh Daiko). 


All are welcome to enjoy this memorable day of music, performance and, of course, the photogenic and magnificent cherry blossoms.



Lydia Tang

Chair, Cherry Blossom Festival



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