Sometimes, a simple idea can grow into a magnificent success. Vancouver resident Linda Poole was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti with her husband, then a Canadian ambassador, when she learned about Sakura festivals in Japan. She heard about them from the couple’s friend, Hisanobu Hasama, who was then Japan’s ambassador to Haiti.
“I never knew there was a festival celebrating my favourite flower,” Poole recalls in a phone interview with Pancouver. “So I just sort of said aloud to him: ‘Whenever I get home again, I’m going to start a festival for my city.’ ”
In 2005, she launched the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival by inviting Haiku submissions. Then she came up with the name “Cherry Jam” for a concert. In those early days, it wasn’t easy convincing public and private funders to support her festival.
“Probably the second or third year, I started Sakura Days,” Poole says. “George Bartel (now president of Aevias) was on my board and he helped me present it.”
As her workload increased, Poole partnered with the Japan Fair Association of Vancouver, which had a strong volunteer corps. For several years, it took over the operations of the Sakura Days Japan Fair, inviting more Japanese vendors to participate.
“But now, it’s gotten too big for them,” Poole says. “So, park board says we have to have professionals.”
One of those professionals is Eduardo Ottoni, who’s been involved in putting on many large events, including the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, the Vancouver Fringe Festival, and Pride.
Twice as many food vendors at 2023 Sakura Days
Last year, 14,000 people converged on VanDusen Botanical Garden for Sakura Days Japan Fair. The crowds were so large—because people were so eager to attend after two years of the pandemic—that the organizers actually ran out of food.
As a result, this year’s event on April 15 and 16 will include twice as many food vendors. Many will be located by Lath House beyond the Rose Garden and on the Upper Lawn beyond the Cherry Stage. In addition there will be vendors selling food items and products in Floral Hall, the Great Hall inside the Visitor Plaza, and Bentall Plaza.
“I’m more about the arts and culture,” Poole says, “but we have a lot of vendors.”
Moreover, there’s a long list of entertainment options at Sakura Days Japan Fair over the weekend. Two of the acts will perform on both days.
At 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, KiKi with Keita Kanazashi will be on the Cherry Stage. KiKi is a female duo from Japan who each pluck a shamisen, which is a traditional three-stringed musical instrument. Kanazashi accompanies them on taiko drums.
KiKi, Keita Kanazashi, and bamboo flute player Alcvin Ramos were at the 2019 Sakura Days Japan Fair.
After their performances, KiKi and Kanazashi will also offer workshops from 3:10 to 3:40 on Saturday and Sunday outside the Floral Hall entrance to Cedar Hall.
Meanwhile at 3:40 p.m. on both days, the five-member Vancouver pop girl group Non Sweet will perform on the Cherry Stage.
Watch Non Sweet’s video for “By Your Side”.
In their “Yukata” video, Non Sweet singers don traditional Japanese kimonos. They also belt out their song while enjoying glorious sunshine on the beach along Canada’s West Coast.
Check out Non Sweet’s official music video for “Yukata”.
Rakugo and shinobue will be at Cedar Hall
There are more than a dozen other acts and martial-arts performances on the Cherry Stage. The fun begins on Saturday with Bushido at 11 a.m. The term bushido roughly translates into the “way of the warrior”. And it offered an ethical guide to the conduct of samurai in pre-modern Japan.
That will be followed by the Vancouver Iaido Club. It practises this Japanese martial artform that goes back nearly 500 years.
The opening ceremony will get underway at 12:05, followed by several other performances on-stage on Saturday. They include Vancouver Mikoshi Rakuichi, Otowa Ryu Dance, Boyish7, Go Taiko, Sakura Singers, Appare Yosakoi, and SDJF Ondo Parade.
On Sunday, Tomoe Arts, Shorinji Kempo, Southern Wave Okinawan Music & Dance, Kisuu Japanese Calligraphy, Tenrikyo Joyous Stars, Cosie, and Vancouver Okinawa Taiko will all be on the Cherry Stage.
That’s not the only site of entertainment at Sakura Days Japan Fair. On Saturday and Sunday, Japanese performer Okeichan will offer traditional comic storytelling known as Rakugo, in English, at 3 p.m. on Saturday and 2:30 on Sunday in Cedar Hall. It’s part of the “Japan Experience” series of workshops.
At the same time and location, another Japanese artist, Keiko, will play the shinobue, also known as the Japanese flute. Other workshops in Cedar Hall will focus on ikebana, which is the Japanese art of flower arranging, as well as temari, an art form in which people of all ages make designs on a ball. In addition, there will be calligraphy workshops, enabling fairgoers to learn to write Kanji characters such as “cherry blossom” and “spring” with a brush and ink.
Haiku winners celebrated
Poole also doesn’t want fairgoers to forget about the Haiku Invitational, which has attracted submissions from poets from more than 40 countries since the inception of the festival. At this year’s Sakura Days Japan Fair, the winning haiku verses from 2022 are commemorated with commissioned pieces by Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh artists.
“We installed them already,” Poole says. “They’re on the rise there, looking beautiful.”
In addition, the children’s tent will be back at the fair.
To reduce lineups, the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival has introduced a “timed ticket entry”. Fairgoers are being asked not to line up more than 15 minutes ahead of their scheduled arrival time.
And for those who want to experience a deeply Japanese tradition, they can drop by the Vancouver Japanese Gardeners Association’s teahouse. There’s a phrase in Japanese, ichi-go ichi-e, which is roughly translated as “once in a lifetime” or “for this time only”.
This phrase applies to when a host invites a guest in for tea. Even if they meet on a daily basis, each visit is a unique event, in which every moment should be savoured.
“I remember when I attended a tea ceremony in Tokyo,” Poole says. “It just mesmerized me. Every little movement has a meaning. I find it’s really just like a meditation.”
The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival presents Sakura Days Japan Fair in partnership with the Japan Fair Association of Vancouver. It takes place on April 15 and 16 at VanDusen Botanical Garden. For more information and tickets, visit the festival website. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.