Attending Cherry Blossom Festival 2013- In Virginia Beach VA

by: Marlene email
View of the two spans of the 17 mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel connecting the Virginia Eastern SDhore to the Virginia mainland.

The Beautiful Chesapeake Bay Bridge Seen From Fisherman’s Island area

Early April is the time of year when we usually look forward to going to the Cherry Blossom Festival in  Washington DC.   Unfortunately, this year we were not  able to go.  About three weeks ago, when I was bemoaning to a friend that scheduling conflicts were going to prevent us from going  to DC,  she mentioned that  nearby Virginia Beach, VA  also has a Cherry Blossom Festival,  why not check it out ?   There won’t be the fabulous blooms along the Tidal Basin, the National Mall or  Parkway Drive said she,  but it might still be interesting and fun.  I took her advice and after some research  found to my surprise that 2013 marked the Virginia Beach 9th  Annual  Cherry Blossom Festival.  Who knew ?  Anyway, that  Saturday  dawned bright and sunny, most welcome after all the spring rain we’ve had this year, a little breezy but expected to be near 60 degrees, a very pleasant day.   So after lunch we decided to go for it,  jumped in the car, zipped over  the Chesapeake  Bay Bridge  Tunnel, waves sparkling in the  afternoon sun,  making a bee line for Redwing Park , about an hour’s drive from our house, planning to get there in time for most of the program,  including the Taiko ensemble’s  performance. (Another little plug for life on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is how close we are to the Hampton Roads area which is the 32nd largest metro area in the US.  It’s like having your cake and eating it too– enjoy  a low-key, relaxed rural feel here on the Shore but be able to access virtually every known metropolitan amenity in less than an hour in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, etc.  Love it, love it, love it ! )

Taiko drums at Cherry Blossom Festival

Taiko Drums At The Virginia Beach Cherry Blossom Festival

I was especially looking forward to the Japanese drums,  called Taiko, which are  really amazing, nothing like what we are used to as drums in a regular  band. A  Taiko drumming performance  is something really special.  Construction of these drums dates  back to feudal times, many  are very large,  made from beautifully grained wood, highly polished, often about the size of barrels, most actually  sit horizontally  and can be played  simultaneously by two drummers, one on each end.  The rhythms are hypnotic, with point and counterpoint, played in long mesmerizing “songs”   Historically,  these drums were often  used on the battlefield because  their loud “voices”  could communicate over long distances.  Taiko were also frequently  used in religious ceremonies in Buddhist and Shinto temples which  had really fabulous drums, usually  fashioned  from trees with  huge diameters, resulting in amazing  drums with faces 10 to 12 feet across. Drums like this could not  be easily moved and were played only by men who received special permission from the monks.  The first time I ever saw a Taiko performance was about a hundred years ago, in the Japanese Pavillion at EPCOT.  I was just transfixed by  the “song”  of the drums and their  mesmerizing beat– in fact, I went around  for days with the beat from one particular  “song”  replaying over and over  in my head.  Taiko drumming is quite demanding, not only because of  the physical strength needed to control the depth of sound and the tempo changes, but also for the sheer physical endurance required.   Certainly I wasn’t expecting professional quality taiko from the Virginia Beach  group,  called Soka Tiako, but they sounded great and  looked quite colorful in their  costumes, garnering lots of applause when their number was completed.

Dancing the flower dance at the Festival

Flower Dance At Cherry Blossom Festival

Lots  of other terrific performances of traditional Japanese music and dance in addition to the Taiko were offered all afternoon.  Among the most interesting was a group from Old Dominion University who played the koto, a zither type  instrument about six feet long, with 13 strings,  which creates the high pitched  sound I most associate with Japanese music.  The koto looks incredibly difficult to master  and in speaking to one of the performers just  before the show, I  was assured that  it is indeed difficult to master,  even more so outdoors  which involves a knack for playing while  breezes ruffle one’s music sheets.  The performers all wore traditional garb, kimono with obi,  gorgeous and colorful.   In fact, quite a few folks in the audience, both men and women, wore traditional garb which gave the whole event a  very authentic feel. One of  my other favorite performances was by the Virginia Beach Okinawa Sanshin-Kai band which played traditional three string lutes and featured a very sweet, almost ballet-like  dance by a mother and her young  daughter, both wearing beautiful kimono and elaborate “flower”  hats symbolizing the first blooms of Spring.

DSC_0881Parasols for saleJapanese character writing

DSC_0754DSC_0802For  martial arts fans, various groups from around the city offered  martial arts demonstrations throughout the afternoon including karate, judo and some a very proficient  kobudo with impressive moves with the traditional swords.  I personally am not into any of that but  a lot of applause went their way from folks who are.  Shopping is more my style and I enjoyed seeing some of the little gift items for sale in the tent area. The most popular item seemed to be a selection of colorful parasols, attracting gals and  girls alike.   In addition, the origami  and calligraphy demonstrations were fun,  lots of folks crowding around  to get their names written in Japanese  by some volunteers who were amused as they tried to write  names like Henrietta and Martha in characters.  A local rescue group for Akita’s was on hand with two of their charges, a handsome grey and a placid sand colored dog–I had just recently seen the Richard Gere film “ Akita”  (  based on a true story)  and we all agreed that it was a real tear jerker  of a movie. Who can even imagine a  depth of  loyalty that would compel a dog to wait outside a train station each night for 9 years, waiting for his owner who was long dead ?  Wow !

Tori gate at RedWing Park in Virginia Beach

Tori Gate in Miyazaki Garden at Redwing Park

Reflecting pool with cherry blossoms

Reflecting Pool At Miyazaki Garden

Apparently part of the impetus for the planting of  the lovely cherry trees at Redwing Park, as well as for the creation of the Festival itself, was that about 14 years ago Virginia Beach established a   “Sister City”  relationship with the city of  Miyazaki , Japan.  This  special relationship resulted in many cross-cultural exchanges and eventually in the city’s construction of  Miyazaki Garden, a  lovely traditional Japanese strolling garden, as well as the planting of hundreds of ornamental Japanese cherry trees in the Park.  The trees  were only in about 25% bloom that Saturday due to the cooler than normal Spring this year,  but that  was enough to see how gorgeous they were going to be this year. Miyazaki  Garden was beautiful  though, an early blooming tree  leaning over a reflecting pond was the site of  much photo taking, prompting me to take pics of  people taking pics.  All in all, as my friend forecast,  it wasn’t the National Mall and it wasn’t the Tidal Basin, but the Virginia Beach, VA  2013 Cherry Blossom Festival was definitely quite nice and we’re glad we went.

( Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134 Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA. )





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