34th Annual Sakura Matsuri in New York | Event Report

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In this post I’ll be sharing my thoughts on this year’s Sakura Matsuri event held at the Botanic Garden in New York. Earlier this year I decided I’d go to every Japan related event in New York. The idea behind that, was to get me out of my apartment and have interesting things to photograph. Anna’s a very energetic and outdoorsy-type, so the idea also worked well doubling as dates.

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Sakura Matsuri was a two day event with a $25 per-ticket admission for each day. Suffice to say, poor people couldn’t go both days– so we chose to go on Saturday. Choosing Saturday was also a strategic move. A cosplay fashion show was to be held on Sunday (along with a few other anime inspired events) and we figured fewer weabs would attend on Saturday. From what I’ve heard, last year the event only cost $20 for both days.

One of the J-lounge’s many robbery booths.

Arriving at the event, our morale was on point. We both felt great and upon entering the garden my energy was high despite being unable to sleep the night before. There were hardly any cosplayers and only a very comfortable amount of people. Anna and I walked past the initial “J-lounge“, which was a gift shop area with a few concession stands. We proceeded to explore the garden itself. Unfortunately, most areas were off limits so that exploration had to stop shortly after beginning.

Logically, I can understand why so much of the park had been closed closed off. Although, considering how those very sections are open during free-admission days, it was annoying that $50 didn’t grant us that access. Sealing off so much to the public made it so everyone was funneled into a small section of the park– something that would really become a problem as more people showed up. After an hour or so, Anna got hungry and wanted a snack…but after seeing that burgers were $10– as well as a man complain about a hair in his food– we returned to the J-lounge in hopes of finding a cheaper alternative.

Two tiny candies ran a staggering $7. Outside food and drink weren’t allowed, so we couldn’t create a lovely picnic ahead of time. Although, I think some people did nonetheless.

By mid-day there were thousands of people and it became incredibly difficult to get anywhere. The park seemed pathetically understaffed during those peak hours. Queues for food and bathrooms were, quite frankly, not cool.

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Well, at these sorts of events it’s not really a secret that shit’s gonna run ya’– but, how were the flowers anyway? Well, there weren’t any.

I’m kidding, there were lots of flowers, just hardly any sakura. Most of them hadn’t begun blooming yet, which is something I see as one of many examples of how this event was solely about financing the city and garden. They were clearly more concerned with ticket quotas than making the event right. The mindset: Let’s book this event months in advanced and get lots of ticket sales! Let’s offer a $2 pre-order discount on the tickets to sell them even faster. After we’ll still make the original $25 by adding a purchase fee at checkout! And I could only assume evil laughs were had sometime during it all.

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This was the main area, where Sakura should have been bloomed all across. A picture says a thousand words, but I’ll go on nonetheless.

Over the length of a football field and there was nothing remotely resembling a flower in sight. There were however, many people. Many people with large tarps and picnic blankets, which were stretched out well past an amount of space anyone could possibly need. A lot of people–us included– were squished behind carriages and standing children, while thousands of square footage was left in reserve by the self-entitled. Since the spirit of the event was as much about community as it was about “PRETTY FLOWER!”, it would’ve been cool seeing people a tad more considerate of their neighbors.

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Youtube search “GSP is not impressed”.

The entertainment wasn’t all that entertaining, however I did enjoy it. We didn’t stay too long because it was so uncomfortable and I was in dire need of shade and a stretch. Initially I had a fairly decent spot to take photos; it was really close to the stage and with a clear view. Alas, I was in people’s way and they kindly asked I not be a dick. I wasn’t able to get many good shots sitting behind so many people, but I sure did try.

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The coolest part of the Taiko performance was when the masked dude came out and began chucking candy at people’s faces. That was followed by an equally as enjoyable “lion”, that looked more like a crazed dragon. It was fierce, a bit scary and totally surreal to watch. The performer’s movements were really beautiful and surprisingly agile considering the costume. I would’ve liked to had a better view.

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In between performances, the event coordinators and some relevant–yet somehow totally irrelevant– politician women gave speeches. Speeches which were incredibly fake, boring and frustrating. Many people got up and left, which allowed us to get a bit closer to the stage, but that was right before we decided to leave ourselves.

One politician woman fumbled saying “Sakura Matsuri” like three times, it was funny. What wasn’t funny though, was her yelling as loud as possible over the speaker system. I will never understand the phenomenon of people yelling over microphones.

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The lion-dragon began chasing and battling the candy-chucking prick.

The speakers were so loud almost everyone in the park was covering their ears and wincing in pain! She didn’t get the hint so after a few minutes of torment the staff finally lowered the speakers. She proceeded to brag about the millions of dollars the garden has profited from assholes like us and how Brooklyn’s the shit. Afterwards she was joined by another middle-aged woman, did a quick fashion run and thankfully got the fuck off stage.

I hope I don’t sound too bitter. I had fun there and will go back next year, provided I’ve saved up enough money from never going back again.

The one in lavender looked so much like Maachan from Momusu. I wish I had a better shot of her. There were many cute children.
I kept trying to get candid pictures of people taking their own pictures. It didn’t matter whether they were using a DSLR or shooting a selfie. Oddly, I found myself really enjoying seeing other people enjoying themselves. Enjoying enjoyment, vicariously. I’m beyond help.
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More cute kids.
The kimono wearing bishoujo was the most relevant person to me on this day. The two cosplayers here seemed really cool and their outfits were super well-made. They looked badass enough where everyone wanted a picture with them, even kimono-chan– who was quite popular herself.

Anime ain’t so bad, but most cosplayers are. Seeing teenagers dress up in bed-sheets wearing cat ears and adorned with blue wigs– while thinking they’re looking their “best” when they really look disheveled and misunderstood– is nauseating. I hate sounding like a scrooge but, most Americans don’t cosplay well and are unpleasant to look at. It seems their Japanese counterparts treat cosplay as an art, one which they’re always trying to perfect, while Americans are just trying to tell the world they really like anime.

The part that bothers me the most, is that every single Japanese culture event which takes place here is hijacked by these people. Total weab-honey pots. It appears many of them deeply believe that Japan means anime and that they’re a quintessential part of these events.

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I saw Kimono-chan taking a selfie in front of the sakura. It was a really striking image but I failed to capture it. Because Japan’s such a developed nation– a country at the forefront of technical innovation– but just a few years ago, were behind the times… I feel a girl wearing a kimono while using a cellphone really epitomizes Japan. It’s poetic; it shows the rapid acceleration of the entire culture, a culture which holds tightly to tradition but has also actively sought separation from it. I can’t explain my feelings well enough here, it just really moves me!

I lurked around for awhile hoping to get another moment to capture my missed shot. However, too many people were flocking to her asking for pictures. If you’re wondering why I simply didn’t ask her for one myself… my no-bullshit answer would be that I’m socially unable to perform such tasks. She definitely saw me creepin’. I was awkward.

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Munchkins. A few people wanted to take pictures with these boys! Really adorable.
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Most of the sakura appeared like this.
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Anna in front of a blooming Sakura tree.

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By the end of the day there were so many people at the park it was literally impossible to do anything. I’m talking thousands of people; even walking around the park was difficult. Although the event became less enjoyable the more people showed up, I’ll admit the vibe improved. I’m not sure how.

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This was the 34th Sakura Matsuri event held. Because of that, I’m not entirely sure what impression to take away from this experience. Was it simply a dud in a long history of decent events, or a showcasing of the very best they have to offer after 33 years of practice?

I’ll most likely revisit Sakura Matsuri next year, because I want to support Japanese culture in The States. But to be completely honest, unless there’s a performance you’re really interested in seeing — which there probably wouldn’t be– if your goal’s enjoying a good hanami, there’s nothing wrong with going a few days after the event. You’d probably have a much more relaxed, memorable and enjoyable experience for far less the costs, if not entirely free.

Also known as iNSPIR1T and IriaChan. My life’s about Japanese women, pizza and combat sports. I like writing once a year, photography, martial arts and language learning.

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