Japantown – Cherry Blossom Festival – Part 1

It is 8:02 AM on Saturday, April 14th.  Today is the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown.  I always enjoy this and tell myself every year that I’d like to get a little more involved and spend more time there.  My favorites are the people dressed up in cosplay, the dancing, the Cherry Blossom court, and especially the karate demonstrations.  And speaking of karate demonstrations last year was the first time I actually participated (2017 Cherry Blossom karate post).

This year we’re doing Kihon Sono 5:  I think this is because it does look very ‘karate’ like with the movements.  I’ll also play a ‘bad guy’ with Yoshi and attack Senpai Alyssa who will knock us both out (acting of course).  And new for me this year is I’ll hold the boards for one of our kid members to punch through.  I learned that at the moment of impact you should try bending the board down so when it breaks the pieces stack on top of each other.  I think I might be as nervous as the kid just holding the boards in front of so many people.

But what I’d really like to write about is my old Japan Airlines colleague Eiji-san who I sadly learned passed away a few years ago.  When I think of the Cherry Blossom festival I think of him and the fun he would have at that event.  He would spend time meeting up with old friends, going to the izakaya, drinking great sake and having an all around good time.  I think about the good times of the airline industry of the 80s and how Japan was conquering the world.  How much fun it would have been for those sales employees of Japan airlines, long since retired, to be at the festival drinking and catching up with everyone.  (Previous post I wrote about this).  Japan Airlines has long been a sponsor and had the main end of parade float with the Cherry Blossom court on it.  I actually helped ensure it was all set up and ready to go when I worked at Japan Airlines and I felt very proud to work for that company.  I would still be there but unfortunately JAL went into bankruptcy in the mid 2000s and my salary was quite low with no chance of improving.

Time goes on and attending this festival reminds me of the passage of time.  Fortunately, there is a good future in front of us which is tied to the Japanese community here.  My wife is Japanese and thus my sons half Japanese.  Our social circle is pretty much all Japanese and we’re entrenched in this new community which continues to evolve.  And evolve it does as Japanese companies usually send their employees for a three year stint and then they move somewhere else or back to Japan.  The ‘long-since-retired,’ old guard who had their heyday in the 80s are now passing away and people of my generation now make up the majority and active members of the Japanese community.  Soon, it will be people my sons age who take up the torch and keep the community alive.

It has been over half a century since WWII when the Japanese were forced into American concentration camps that left Japantown vacant.  It was then that African Americans moved in which gave rise to the jazz scene of the Filmore.  Once the war ended the Japanese couldn’t return to their homes in Japantown and it never really recovered from this.  Now, most African Americans have moved out as the area gentrified over the past couple decades and you now see a lot of Korean shops and restaurants in Japantown.  The new Japanese simply don’t place the importance on hanging out there and starting a new community as the world has changed and there are different opportunities.  The only time my wife ever goes there is to visit Nijiya (supermarket) on occasion but actually the one in San Mateo is much more convenient without all the craziness of San Francisco.

But for one weekend, the Cherry Blossom Festival, Japantown really comes alive with the old splendor of days long gone by.  It becomes ‘Japanese’ again with dancing, music, song, and all the beautiful aspects of Japanese culture.  I really would like to visit an izakaya there at this time and revel in all the joys like my previous colleague Eiji-san did.  The only thing is I must be sharp for the karate presentation so wouldn’t be able to drink the sake.

Time goes on, everything changes, but it is a festival like this where the ancient as well as new traditions of Japan are on full display for everyone to enjoy.

I’ll be sure to take plenty of pictures and post a video of the karate presentation here shortly.

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! \(^.^)/