Annual Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates Japanese culture

On May 13, when the cherry tree flowers came out of their buds, the high school celebrated the sixth annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Students, friends, family and alumni of the high school gathered in the quad to see a part of Japanese culture play out in front of them.

According to Japanese teacher and co-chair of the Cherry Blossom Festival Rachel Eio, the festival is a collaboration between Brookline High School and The Genki Spark.

“We bring in artists from the community, as well as student volunteers and seven restaurants this year,” Eio said.

The Genki Spark is an Asian women’s performance troupe. According to the founder of The Genki Spark and co-chair of the Cherry Blossom Festival Karen Young, the festival is a celebration of Japanese culture.

“It’s a big party,” Young said. “There’s food and there’s families, activities and performances, and it’s also an opportunity for us to gather together.”

Eio said the tradition started in 2012 when the former Consul General of Japan in Boston, Takeshi Hikihara, gave the high school cherry trees to remember the 100-year anniversary of Japan giving cherry trees to Washington, D.C., as a friendship gesture.

“We had a festival to celebrate those trees,” Eio said. “We’ve been doing this each year as a celebration of spring and Japanese culture.”

According to Eio, people who come to the Cherry Blossom Festival are not just from the high school but from all over.

“Most of the people actually are outside of the Brookline High School community. The student volunteers are obviously students who are either in the Japanese program at the high school or students who want to volunteer; there’re APAC {Asian Pacific American Club} students who come or anybody who is interested,” Eio said. “The people who come tend to be community members, people who live in the Greater Boston area. We have people who come all the way from Canada, Vermont and New Hampshire.”

Talha Shahid and Sheela Qaderi heard about the festival during their visit from New Jersey and decided to attend.

“I like learning about different cultures and I like being exposed to different cultures. We thought this would be a nice place to visit and to see what’s going on,” Qaderi said.

According to Eio, the festival is a fundraiser to support the arts, and the money raised from the festival is split between the high school’s Japan Exchange Program to provide money for scholarships and The Genki Spark.

The cherry trees and lanterns colored the quad. Throughout the festival, children made Japanese masks, learned how to do traditional Japanese ink block art and folded lanterns. Various groups played the taiko drums and dancers from The Genki Spark performed. A performer from The Genki Spark, Jennifer Moy ‘11, said that Taiko is part of Asian American history in the United States.

“It’s important to reclaim your arts and culture,” Moy said. “{Taiko} is a beautiful and physical art form. I feel empowered as an Asian female to be playing it. A lot of our pieces speak about our identity as Asian women, so we can be happy and cheery and bubbly, but we can also be fierce and grounded and strong. I hope people open their eyes and mind to see something different and appreciate another culture.”

To Moy, the festival is not just a celebration of a Japanese culture, but Asian-American communities as a whole.

“We wanted to bring something to Brookline that was different and more culturally based. You’ll see these festivals a lot in Japan, but you’ll rarely see them here. It’s a way to merge both identities of Japanese-Americans and Asian-Americans together and to share it with the Brookline community,” Moy said.

Jackie Perelman and Sophie Hafner contributed reporting.