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Sakura Matsuri: harmony between anime and nature

Trees and anime fans at the Cherry Blossom Festival

We realize that this is over a month late. We deeply apologize for the embarrassing lateness.

Anime convention personalities wandered between booths as OEL manga artists showed off their stuff. Uncle Yo performed a comedy routine while hordes of otaku watched, and many more lounged behind them in full cosplay. These unusual occurrences are standard fare for most anime convention-goers. What might have struck most of them as odd, however, was the venue – not a massive indoor convention center, but a long, sunny stretch of grass in the center of the beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.

The Sakura Matsuri (“cherry blossom festival” in Japanese) has been a tradition of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens since 1982, when the festival was formed as a way of celebrating Japanese culture and showing off the cherry trees in the Gardens, of which there are now 220. The event has since evolved into a two-day spectacle of Japanese culture, ranging from samurai demonstrations to anime and J-pop to origami and art.

This year’s festival featured an encouraging amount of pop culture. Granted, there were definitely many very interesting demonstrations of traditional Japanese art, theatre, and more, but there was also an entire field in the park dedicated to anime and manga. Uncle Yo performed on the Osborne Garden, the New York Anime Festival maintained a booth (helmed, of course, by Peter Tatara), and there were even some booths for Del Rey Manga, Abby Denson, and Misako Rocks. Later in the evening, the festival even featured performances from J-pop artists.

The Gardens were filled with all types, from old Japanese couples to local Brooklynites to teenage otaku. One group of the latter seemed to be really reaping the benefits of the Japanese “high culture” at the event, as the girls had attended Origami, and “Gypsy Rock” demonstrations in addition to the anime events, of which one girl thought there were far too few.

As that attendee pointed out, the Festival is nothing like going to a real anime con, where there are dealers everywhere and panels going on all day, but the Sakura Matsuri is a great time for anybody in the area who enjoys small conventions. Not only does the festival have some fun (if limited) pop culture activities, but it also has a plethora of other Japanese culture activities and a beautiful, beautiful venue.

I absolutely cannot stress that enough – the blooming flowers, lush, green trees (of many, many different varieties), and of course, incredible lines of cherry blossom trees are a feast to the senses that easily beat out the dank concrete and glass halls of a convention center. As long as you’re not a stereotypical otaku who will burn in sunlight (I know there are some of you…), the beauty of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens merged with the pop culture fun of what amounts to a very small NYAF should be an absolute blast.

And for only $12 a day – half that for students – who could possibly pass up such a wonderful opportunity to witness nature and culture in perfect harmony?

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