The Boston Haru Matsuri, or Japanese Spring Festival, is part of the larger Greater Boston Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festival sponsored by the Japan Society of Boston.
Each spring, Washington D.C. celebrates the Japanese Cherry Blossom, or Sakura Festival, to commemorate the gift of cherry trees from Japan to Washington, D.C. in 1912. In 2012, the 100th anniversary of the gift, Sakura Festivals took place in cities all across the United States, including Boston. Haru Matsuri (or “Spring Festival”) Boston 2012 was the first Japanese-style festival ever held in Boston and was the largest organized by the Japanese community. Held in Copley Square, the event was prepared by volunteers from numerous Japanese organizations in Boston, and included over 80 booths offering authentic Japanese foods, goods and services, child-friendly games and activities, displays introducing Japanese culture and Japan-related organizations in Boston, and much more. Onstage there were performances of Japanese music, traditional arts and other forms of entertainment. Japan Airlines also celebrated the launch of its long-awaited first nonstop flight linking Boston and Japan by raffling off round-trip business class tickets to Japan. Finally, several organizations raised money to help those affected by the devastating Japanese tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear disaster of March 2011.
Sketch and I were excited to head to Boston for the first ever local Cherry Blossom Festival put on by the Boston Japanese Society. It was held in Copley Square, which was somewhat sheltered from the cold, strong wind. We got there early enough to get a great spot in front of the performance stage, which had a large woven dome with a grasshopper and other trinkets arranged inside of it. I knew it had some traditional significance, but unfortunately it was not addressed by the Emcee. We did get a demonstration of traditional dress by representatives from the Kitanodai Gagaku Ensemble, which was somewhat disappointing in that it merely was a male putting on the clothing and then modeling it with a brief explanation of what he was wearing, when it would have been much more interesting to have seen both male and female dress, and have the dresser explain how the garment was worn and why things were worn a certain way (why the the left side of the kimono overlaps the right, for example). Much more entertaining was the Taiko drumming performance by Wellesley College students; I had never experienced Taiko drumming before, and the choreography was interesting to watch and the music was enjoyable. My favorite performance, however, were the traditional dances by a group of teenage girls from Showa Boston, a branch of Showa University in Tokyo. Japanese students from the University take programs at the Boston campus where they study English, American culture, and learn to teach Japanese to English speaking students. Their dances were as fun and energetic as their kimonos, and the movement was completely different than any style of dance I'd ever seen.
Following the dance performance we met up with Doug, Christa, Lisa, Lindsay, and several other friends and wandered booths dedicated to everything from flower arranging to games where children fished out toys from a kiddie pond to win traditional Japanese festival masks. By the time we headed to the booth area, it had become packed with people and it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move. It was even harder to try to get to the actual boothfronts. Also, the food for sale in the booths could only be purchased with food tickets rather than money, and the festival ran out of food tickets before noon, when the festival lasted until 4pm! Clearly, organizers never expected this many people to come; although the event was not well-advertized, Japanese culture is a very "in" thing at the moment, and it was somewhat shortsighted of organizers to think that the first Japanese culture festival in the city wouldn't attract a few thousand people when Anime Boston alone is quickly approaching the 20,000 mark for attendance. That said, however, it was fantastic to see so many people come out to support the celebration. It was especially enjoyable (and surprising!) to see all sorts of people, especially children, dressed up in festival-appropriate yukata kimono with fans and masks. I was also happy to see very little cosplay, which I personally think is somewhat disrespectful to the event. Overall, organizers did a great job for a first try at an event, and they were already learning from their mistakes. We talked to several members of the Japan Society who told us that they planned to make this an annual event, and were already looking at alternative locations that would hold more people, such as Boston Common. We're happy to see that the event was such a success, and I hope they are able to expand and improve the event for the future!