I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
With Japan fresh in the hearts and minds of all New Yorkers—as well as the world's—now is a wonderful time to immerse yourself in a celebration of Japanese culture. And there is no better place to do so in spring than at Brooklyn Botanic Garden's annual Cherry Blossom Festival, April 30 through May 1. The event, just one part of the month-long Hanami Festival, showcases the graceful and majestic cherry blossom trees while they are in full, showy bloom. Hanami is the Japanese tradition of "viewing and cherishing the cherry blossom season."
Cherry blossom season in Brooklyn is a big deal. Sakura Matsuri has something for people of all ages and is among the largest events in a public park in the entire country. More than 40 varieties of cherry trees are in various stages of bloom throughout the 52-acre complex of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the only place outside of Japan where so many of the gorgeous trees can be experienced in one place.
While enjoying the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, stop by the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, designed in 1914 by Takeo Shiota, including the museum devoted to miniature bonsai. Take in the delicate weeping cherry trees—Prunus subhirtella—that thrive there. Walk amid graceful winding paths, wooden bridges, and hilly landscape around the pond and waterfall and meditate near the Shinto shrine. Some of the plantings in the garden date back to 1912 and several cherry trees that were planted in the 1920s still survive.
The culmination of the month-long event is the Sakura Matsuri Festival, often referred to as New York's Rite of Spring, which brings thousands of New Yorkers into the gardens for Japanese music, performance, and art. More than 60 events and performances are scheduled throughout the weekend and are free to the public with admission. Expect Japanese food tastings, ikebana flower arranging demos, block-printing and calligraphy writing workshops for kids and adults, tea ceremonies, Japanese DJs, Japanese fashion shows, and much, much more.
You'll be both wowed and surprised at the spectacles that unfold each day throughout the garden as part of a total immersive experience. Long time supporters of the festival often wear Japanese costume and walk among the blooming trees for amazing photo opportunities. If checking out the performances isn't your thing, head instead to the esplanade where you and your family may relax under the dazzling pink-colored shade of the two allées of blooming cherries—the natural centerpiece of the festival.
For an idea of just how beautiful the cherry trees are when in bloom, look no further than this incredible time-lapse video by Dave Allen of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, shot in 2008. It was made with more than 3,000 individual photos!