Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pretty in pink: Sakura Matsuri returns

Photo: Barbara Alper, courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s peerless collection of cherry trees — the largest and most diverse outside Japan — creates a canopy of blossoms in the spring that is most worthy of a major celebration. Over the course of its 28-year history, Sakura Matsuri (to be held this year May 2-3) has evolved into one of the city’s most anticipated weekend events, as tens of thousands of visitors come to experience not only the breathtaking beauty of the cherry tree’s fleeting blossoms but also to learn about Japanese culture — both traditional and contemporary — with two days of music, dance, martial arts, food, film, workshops, demonstrations, and guided tours of the Garden’s plant collections.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden will be the number one springtime destination for anime, cosplay, manga and Japanese pop and rock from the 1960s to the present. For the first time ever, three programs at Sakura Matsuri will be presented in collaboration with the hugely popular NY Anime Festival, bringing the finest in Japanese anime and manga talent to the Garden, which devotees and the simply curious can enjoy.

The all-new Manga & Anime Artist Alley is part of the expanded Sakura J-Lounge, which features more music, more dancers, and the addition of several famed Japanese comic artists signing their colorful works. In addition, Samurai Beat Radio will be broadcasting live from the J-Lounge to several stations in Japan.

Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. All activities take place rain or shine, with indoor locations provided for all activities in the event of rain. Tickets are available through; for same-day ticket information, visit or call 718-623-7200. A detailed schedule of the festival is available at, and information is available by calling 718-623-7333.

Admission is $12; $6 for students and seniors.

Sakura Matsuri: Event Highlights

Visitors to the Garden enjoy traditional Japanese music performed with authentic instruments as well as contemporary music by leading musicians. The Sakura J-Lounge returns with an expanded lineup of DJs spinning a wide variety of Japanese pop and rock old and new to give extra punch to the festivities.

Other musical highlights include a Japanese pop concert by star Ai Kawashima, who has gained national renown in Japan; Minami Kuzuki, singing and playing shamisen J-pop melodies inspired by the folk songs of her home in the Amami Islands; and a performance of traditional koto and shamisen music by Misayo Ishigure and the Miyabi Koto Shamisen Ensemble.

Brooklyn favorite Kagero will bring the house down with its border-crossing Japanese gypsy rock. A Children’s Suzuki Recital features kids ages four to 13 performing string versions of Japanese folk songs.

Traditional music lovers will be enthralled by an ethereal shakuhachi flute concert and a classical koto and shamisen concert. Enjoy the adrenaline-pumping sounds of taiko performances by Taiko Masala, Soh Daiko, and the all-child Genki Daiko — then try this ancient art of drumming in two hands-on taiko drumming workshops for families.

Dance and MartialArts
The J-Lounge features fabulously attired dancers throughout the afternoon rocking to Japanese group sounds, Shibuya-kei, ’60s pop rock, and anime-themed J-pop. Samurai Sword Soul returns with another original piece, Bushido: The Soul of Samurai, showcasing the mastery of these sword-fighting professionals.

Enjoy works by the legendary dance troupe Sachiyo Ito & Company, which performs in the expressive tradition of Ryukyu Buyo, Okinawan dance, and graceful Nihon Buyo, Japanese classical dance. Experience vibrant Japanese folk dance with the colorful Hanagasa Odori (Flower Hat Dance) parade and minbu dance, performed by the Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York. Witness a moving performance of butoh, a Japanese style of dance that emerged after World War II, performed by Dean Street FOO Dance.

Traditional Arts
Explore Japanese art forms and creative disciplines with special workshops and demonstrations of ikebana flower arranging, origami paper folding, mataro ningyo wooden doll making, and washi ningyo paper doll making. BBG’s own curator of the CV Starr Bonsai Museum, Julian Velasco, shares his expertise in bonsai pruning techniques.

Other highlights include a traditional Japanese tea ceremony presentation, and a whimsical soft sculpture sushi display and photo op. Plus, enjoy the New York premiere of the film “Transcending – The Wat Misaka Story,” which recounts the story of the first Japanese-American basketball player in the NBA.

Manga and Anime
With the NY Anime Festival, Sakura Matsuri presents the most exciting manga and anime activities around. During NYC’s Largest Cos-Play Photo Shoot, thousands of festival-goers in costume will gather together under BBG’s peerless flowering cherry trees for some unforgettable image-making. The Funny Voices: Anime Voice Actor Roundtable features the city’s hottest talents in anime cartoon voice talent talking about, and as, their legendary characters.

At the AnimeNEXT Manga Library, children and adults can partake of the global phenomenon of these exquisitely illustrated Japanese comics and read nature-inspired manga. Plus, renowned manga illustrator Kensuke Okabayashi presents a fantastic character-sketching talk and demo and signs copies of his book “Manga for Dummies.”

Manga mania will continue with Misako Rocks! A Crazy Comic Life, during which illustrator Misako Rocks!, known for her works “Rock and Roll Love,” “Biker Girl,” and “Detective Jermain,” will guide visitors through her colorful childhood in Japan and other sources of inspiration for her manga.

Children’s Activities
Children’s activities include a special session with manga illustrator Misako Rocks!, and the AnimeNEXT Manga Library’s display of nature comics is a must-see. Other kid-friendly events include Samurai swordplay performed by Samurai Sword Soul, a hands-on workshop all about haiku and papermaking, an entertaining origami paper-folding workshop, plus taiko drumming for the whole family. Kids will love watching their peers star onstage in a kimono show, a suzuki recital, and a taiko-drumming performance.

Visitor entrances to the Garden are at Flatbush Avenue, at the parking lot gate at 900 Washington Avenue, and at Eastern Parkway. Parking is available at 900 Washington Avenue for a fee. For more, call 718-623-7200 or visit


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