It’s almost cherry blossom season in Philly

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Spring has sprung and flowers are blooming, and there’s no better place to admire the floral wonders of the city than at Fairmount Park. 

“We can expect the peak bloom in Philadelphia to roll across the region around the first two weeks of April, averaging around the 10th and coinciding nicely with our Virtual Ohanami cherry blossom program live from Shofuso,” said Sandi Polyakov, Head Gardener at Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center in a release.

The Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia is a private nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that promotes arts, business, and cultural exchange between the United States and Japan in the Greater Philadelphia region and they also work with the Shofuso House, a traditional Japanese house and garden in West Fairmount Park, which reopened to the public last week. 

“We’ve got a lot of great varieties dispersed across the city, and each one has its own timeline and personality,” continues Polyakov in her statement. “There will be great viewing opportunities of different cherry trees also the week before (April 3-10) and after (April 10-17). Blooms in the city come a bit earlier than their siblings in the suburbs. Keep your eyes open for pink and you’ll have a good chance of catching your favorites in the coming days. We encourage everyone to go out and explore.”

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Because of the pandemic, this year will hold two different ways to experience the blooming season with events and happenings occurring both online and in person. To celebrate the start of the 2021 spring season, JASGP is conducting the Shofuso Cherry Blossom Viewing, which includes both socially-distanced activities and virtual programming throughout April of this year. 

First, Philadelphians can head out to see the blossoms in person, which is similar to the Ohanami tradition in Japan where families and friends gather under the blossoms to have flower-viewing picnics. Visitors can pick up a Philadelphia Cherry Blossom Ohanami map at Shofuso (or download it from japanphilly.org) or, check out the new hand-painted map from artist Hiro Sakaguchi.

According to a release, Sakaguchi was born in Nagano, Japan and moved to the United States in the 1990s to study art at the University of the Arts (BFA) and PAFA (MFA). Sakaguchi has had over 35 solo and group exhibitions, having shown at various venues locally and internationally, and is also a curator. He is also an instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and his map will be available for pick-up at Shofuso and sold as a 14” x 21” poster in the gift shop. 

The maps help, but there are a few spots that are known as prime viewing locations for the blossoms beyond the greenery of Fairmount Park. The Shofuso House does hold the most variety, but those looking through rose-colored glasses can also check out the cherry tress on Kelly Drive (with Cherry trees from a 1933 planting located North of Boathouse Row past where Girard Ave. crosses Kelly Drive,) at Memorial Hall/Please Touch Museum (on Lansdowne Drive behind Memorial Hall), Martin Luther King Jr. Drive/West River (from south of Montgomery Drive north to Falls Bridge,) and the Belmont Plateau (along Belmont Mansion Drive overlooking the city skyline.) 

The release states that flowering cherry trees have been a symbol of friendship between Philadelphia and Japan since 1,600 cherry trees were gifted from Japan to Philadelphia in 1926 to commemorate the American Sesquicentennial. In 1933, Japanese residents of the Philadelphia region gifted an additional 500 cherry trees and planted them alongside John B. Kelly Drive. The Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia organized a planting of 1,000 new cherry trees in Philadelphia between 1998 and 2007. JASGP has been working with neighborhood communities continuously since 2008 to plant cherry trees in Clark Park, Franklin Square, and Morris Park to help build green and peaceful urban communities as well.

Pre-pandemic, visitors from all over could attend a festival in person celebrating the beauty and the meaning of the Cherry blossoms. However, 2021 will hold a virtual commemoration on Saturday, April 10, from 10 to 11 a.m. The live program will feature a presentation of ohanami or cherry blossom appreciation, taiko performance that were pre-recorded in Japan from Tamagawa University , activities, demonstrations, and crafts that highlight cherry blossom culture. The event will also honor Abana Jacobs, a colleague lost to COVID-19 in 2020 who worked with JASGP on the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festivals for many years.

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Lastly, Philadelphians can also participate in the Annual Cherry Blossom 10K/5K. Upon registration through RunSignUp, runners can complete their distances on their own schedule at the sanctioned course among the cherry trees near Shofuso, on their regular training courses, on a treadmill, or anywhere that they feel comfortable. The race will occur Saturday, April 10, and Sunday, April 18. For the race, participants will complete the run/walk, submit their time, and can tag Shofuso in selfies taken along the way or at the finish with the hashtag #CherryBlossom10K or #SpringStartsatShofuso. The race fee is $45. 

For more information on where to spot the Cherry Blossems, the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP) and the Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center, visit japanphilly.org

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