Viewing the spring cherry blossoms – sakura – is a tradition with more than a thousand years of Japanese history. The hanami – blossom-viewing parties – are so ubiquitous to the culture, Americans tend to think the landscape is constantly decorated with the delicate pink blossoms…or terrorized by Godzilla. (Both?)
In 1912, Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo gifted Washington DC with 3,000 cherry trees. The gift was given to celebrate the lasting friendship between the two countries. In 1941, the United States reciprocated by putting people of Japanese descent into work camps. To be fair, the countries were broken up at the time… Since then, they’ve given us cars with great gas mileage and we’ve given them Justin Bieber, so it really all comes out in the wash.
In Washington, the Centennial Celebration of the “Gift of Trees” is being celebrated with five weeks of art and events. In Los Angeles, Executive Chef de Cuisine Atsushi Kenjo at Chaya Downtown, has created a special menu of bites ($5 – $8) and beverages to honor the occasion. Kenjo has incorporated aged cherry balsamic into his beef carpaccio, cherry leaves in the Tai Sakura Sushi and the plump, red fruit into his light-and-dreamy clafoutis. For diners who are looking to drink their dinner or dessert, the Sakura Bellini is a blend of Suijin Jumai sake, Champagne, Luxardo cherry liqueur, and topped with house-made cherry sorbet.
Sakura isn’t just a celebration of aesthetics in Japan, the flowers are also symbolically significant. According to Buddhist tradition, the blossoms’ brief and beautiful bloom represent the transient nature of life. Chaya’s Cherry Blossom Festival is transient, too. The celebration runs from April 16 – April 27 (Mon – Fri, 4 PM – close). Enjoy the hanami while it’s here; after all, you could get eaten by Godzilla before the spring festival arrives again.