The cherry blossoms are blooming, and San Francisco celebrated it the best way it can: with a festival. The San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival (SF CBF) ran for two weekends in San Francisco’s Japan Town, bringing big crowds but also a lot to do.
Both weekends saw the Peace Plaza at Japan Town filled with attendees of all ages, there to enjoy the festival. It was not an anime-centric event, being focused on Japanese culture and tradition, although cosplayers were still in attendance and more than welcome. (More on that later.)
The main stage hosted several performances throughout the weekends, with taiko drummers, traditional Japanese dances, and presentations about Japan, its culture, and the businesses in San Francisco relating to it. The audience was always filled to the brim, with an overflow standing around to watch the events.
The Japan Town mall itself was, of course, quite crowded from all the attendees. Maneuvering through them was a tad difficult, but there was plenty to see and buy. The shops around there sold kimonos, swords, anime and manga, and more, depending on where you looked. Of course, there were also many restaurants around, several with special deals for festival attendees, so ramen noodles or okonomiyaki were not hard to find, they just had quite a bit of wait time.
Out on the streets, vendors and booths were set up around the road. There were social media streams, so those not present could see the events, as well as raffles, prize wheels, games, and shops. Inside the mall were a few booths for artists to sell their crafts, similar to what one would see at a convention’s artist alley. A Hello Kitty food truck was exceedingly popular, and one weekend saw a truck handing out free Pocky to attendees.
On the first weekend, there was a new addition: Sakura 360. This area included a stage for cosplayers and guests to participate in a range of games for all ages, including trivia contests about anime and video games, hot potato, and “Sempai Says,” which is really just Simon Says with the tagline “The game where you don’t want sempai to notice you.” The hosts were engaging and energetic, keeping the activities going strong throughout the entire weekend. There were also some great prizes for those who played, including DVDs, video games, and anime box sets.
Sakura 360 also offered a scavenger hunt. Attendees could find certain cosplayers and strike certain poses, then take a picture and upload it to social media with the #Sakura360 hashtag to win prizes. There were two tiers of prizes, depending on completion, but it also offered some big prizes for those who won fast enough.
The second Sunday was the grand parade, including the ever-popular cosplay parade. Cosplayers gathered at the Civic Center for pictures and contest judging, before entering the parade, with some of them riding on a float. It’s always a big draw, and although the weekend saw people split between Big Wow, Star Wars Celebration, and CBF, it still had a nice turnout.
The Cherry Blossom Festival is a yearly occurrence, so in 2016 we can look forward to another two weekends of activities, crowds, and cosplay.