Editor’s note: The original hanami festival was canceled due to rain. This story has been updated with details about the rescheduled festival.
WOODLAWN — A Sunday afternoon celebration among Jackson Park’s cherry blossoms will come with free events to get visitors more familiar with Japanese culture.
A hanami festival featuring traditional Japanese drumming and dance alongside haiku and origami sessions will take place noon-3 p.m. Sunday. It will be held at the Garden of the Phoenix on Jackson Park’s Wooded Island, 6300 S. Cornell Drive.
Hanami, which translates to “flower viewing,” is the annual custom of observing cherry blossoms, or sakura.
“This is such an important time in Japan,” said Saira Chambers, director of the Japanese Culture Center and the Japanese Arts Foundation. “We’ll have special performances, including a dance that’s only done at this type of festival with the dancers holding cherry blossom branches.”
Only 100 people at a time will be able to enter the Garden of the Phoenix for the Tsukasa Taiko drumming and Shubukai dance performances, Chambers said.
“These are amazing groups deeply steeped in tradition,” Chambers said. “They bring lessons straight from Japan, from schools and lineages [dating back] hundreds of years. You can’t see them anywhere else in the Midwest, if not anywhere else in the U.S. — it’s super special.”
Haiku and origami sessions will be held throughout the afternoon, as well as a yukata table where the Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago will feature the traditional summer garment.
There’s no capacity limits for those events, which will be held on Wooded Island outside the garden, Chambers said.
Speeches from festival organizers representing the culture center, the arts foundation, the consulate-general’s office, the Park District, the Jackson Park Advisory Council and the Garden of the Phoenix Foundation will take place throughout the day.
The festival was initially planned for last weekend, but it was rescheduled due to rain and the trees’ delayed blooming.
“Chicago’s cold and wet weather has kept the buds tight and closed to protect the trees’ petals,” spokesperson Irene Tostado said in a statement. “This week promises to bring warmer temperatures, and with it, the possibility of seeing the trees bloom once and for all.”
The first group of cherry trees were planted in 2013 to honor the 120th anniversary of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Another 50 trees were planted over the following three years by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago, to celebrate its 50th anniversary and the relationship between Chicago and Japan.
The Park District will plant 118 more Accolade and Snow Goose cherry trees in Jackson Park this year, Tostado said.
William Shehan, a haiku master at the culture center, will be on hand to educate visitors about haikus — including breaking the myth they must all be written with three lines of five, seven and five syllables, he said.
Shehan will also engage in brief conversations with attendees, after which he’ll write haikus reflecting the shared moments. He encouraged visitors to freely express their emotions during the conversation, as doing so will lead to more personal poems.
“A haiku is and should be a Polaroid — this photograph of a moment in time that everyone can relate to,” Shehan said. “One of the things about a haiku is it should speak to the human condition.”
Ty Yamamoto, the culture center’s program director, will coordinate the origami sessions. Attendees can learn how to create paper cranes, which are a symbol of peace, he said.
“This will be my first real hanami since kindergarten,” Yamamoto said. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to do something like this.”
It would be fun to teach visitors how to create an origami cherry blossom and other flower patterns for the hanami festival, but those “are pretty advanced” and tough to teach at such a busy event, Yamamoto said.
Yamamoto’s favorite advanced pattern to create is currently “a little Godzilla character,” which he’s able to complete in 20 minutes — though it took him 90 minutes his first time, he said.
The hanami festival is the organizers’ first of several events this year which will be held in Jackson Park and around the South Side to engage neighbors with Japanese culture.
The Tsukasa Taiko and Shubukai performers will return to Jackson Park Aug. 6 for this year’s Bon Fest.
Free dance classes will offered at the Hyde Park Art Center “and perhaps other locations” ahead of Bon Fest, Chambers said.
“We want to reach those neighborhoods, reach those communities and new learners that might be interested in engaging in Japanese art, but felt they didn’t have the opportunity before,” she said.
A tsukimi, or moon-viewing, festival will take place to coincide with the harvest moon Sept. 10. Attendees will come out to view the full moon and show “gratitude for the bounty of the year before,” Chambers said.
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