This is my fourth year attending Sakura Matsuri and it continues to be one of my favorite cultural festivals in DC. In this post I’ll share the highlights of my experience this year plus tips for first-time attendees next year.
The festival has changed locations a couple of times. This year it was held on a section of Pennsylvania Ave. near Archives. It does require tickets, but they’re never very expensive- this year it was $10. You can buy them online or at the door, and honestly it’s not necessarily an advantage to buy in advance as both lines are long but move very quickly. My recommendation is to get there before the festival opens. This means you’ll have to wait at the door, but you’d be waiting in line anyway no matter when you arrive. Because the day gets hotter and the festival gets more crowded as the day goes on, an early start is better in my experience.
The first thing my friend Rebecca and I usually do is take a first-pass look at the shops. We like to see everything before we decide to buy…although we never actually hold off until then.
But I’ll get back to that in a minute- first I want to talk about the food because that’s what we really should be doing first.
The festival always has plenty of stalls selling street foods (yakitori, yakisoba, dumplings, rice balls, fried rice, a variety of grilled and fried meats) alongside more familiar american festival foods for the less adventurous- sausages, burgers, etc. There are also desserts like waffles, ice cream and traditional Japanese sweets as well as bubble tea and smoothies. For adult beverages, there’s beer on sale at various stalls and a popular sake tasting booth. Once the festival becomes crowded, which happens pretty quickly, the lines for “real food” (like noodles, dumplings- the kind of things you’d want to make a lunch out of) become really really long, and if you don’t want to wait, you’re left with desserts, some american foods, and maybe snack foods like onigiri and waffles. Every year Rebecca and I observe this reality, and every year we ignore it again and end up surviving on sugar. I can get over not trying the savory Japanese foods as I’m lucky enough to live where I can regularly enjoy most of them in restaurants, but I do get really hungry!
On that note, while making our first pass of the shops, I very quickly spotted a gelato stand (it’s a gift). For the festival, Dolci Gelati features matcha and sakura flavors, so we got a scoop of each. The sweet but vegetal matcha and the floral sakura really go together well and make for a refreshing dessert- and who doesn’t need a refreshing dessert at 10:30 a.m. when they’re just getting started?
Not refreshed enough? It’s quickly time for refreshment #2- boba tea! Particularly the delicious melon (honeydew) flavor. Rebecca opted for a fresh strawberry banana smoothie, and boba smoothies were an option as well!
On to the shops. I should have taken pictures, but let me describe them for you instead:
First, there are the more traditional or tradition-inspired crafts. There were a lot of things made with kimono fabric, like bags of all types, hair accessories, other accessories, straps and lanyards. There were lovely scarves printed with spring and cherry blossom-themed images (I bought one of these) as well as furoshiki. I saw kokeshi dolls and lucky cats, tea sets, jewelry and decorative items made using origami.
Then there are the more pop-culture-oriented shops. There were a few booths selling anime, manga and related items like figures, posters and other fan merchandise. There were also a lot of shops selling cute items inluding kigurumi, plushies, fashion items featuring kawaii characters, lots of San-x and Sanrio products and generally a lot of cute stationery, accessories, bento boxes, etc. I’m not going to lie, these booths always take the biggest chunk of my money! There were also shops selling festival shirts and memorabilia, and I spotted Uniqlo promoting their nearby locations.
Outside of food and shops there were educational booths presenting everything from tea ceremony, calligraphy, and Japanese language to technological innovations and environmental concerns.
After we had worn ourselves out shopping, we decided to take a rest in the park, but not without another treat: mysteriously delicious festival lemonade. How is this lemonade so good?? I’m sure it’s not fresh, who knows if it’s even lemons, but it is so flavorful, so tart, so sweet, so refreshing, and the ice never seems to run out. We have to get one every year. We took our lemonades to a small green space near one of the stages to listen to J-Pop, organize our purchases, chat about life and people-watch.
I took some great pictures of street fashion at the festival but I don’t want to be weird by featuring someone here without their permission. Let’s just say it was fun to see people in kimono, people in cosplay, people experimenting with various Harajuku fashion subcultures and other alternative styles, and a wide variety of looks in general. Some of it was awesome, some of it was fun, some of it was weird, but it’s something I don’t get to see very often in DC.
After enjoying the festival for a few hours, we decided it wouldn’t be a Cherry Blossom Festival if we didn’t enjoy the blossoms themselves at peak bloom, so we took the train down to the tidal basin. At this point we were exhausted and starving, but it was so beautiful and peaceful just laying around by the water, watching the blossoms, the ducks, the paddle-boats, the families having picnics, wedding photos and proposals.
So that was our Cherry Blossom experience this year! I came home, presented my purchases to my boyfriend who was definitely impressed (lol) and after that it’s a blur of aggressively consuming Chinese takeout and passing out in front of the TV.
Comment below if you have any questions about the festival, or show me cute things you bought! OR recommend another good festival I should check out next time! Looking forward to St. Sophia’s Greek Festival in a few weeks, a.k.a. “loukoumades eating contest nobody else knows they’re participating in.”
Until next time!