2015 Japanese Stone Lantern Lighting Ceremony

Went to to the Cherry Blossom Festival last weekend, although thanks to the prolonged cold weather we’ve had this year, they weren’t in bloom yet.  The tulip trees were in bloom, and they at least provided something to look at wherever they were:

Such as Reagan National-this was taken through the train window en route.

Such as Reagan National-this was taken through the train window en route.

But the trees themselves were only just forming their buds.

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However, this year I checked out the Japanese Stone Lantern Lighting Ceremony.  The Stone Lantern is at one end of the Tidal Basin by the bridge, created in 1651 at a memorial of the shogun Tokugama Iemitsu, and given to DC as a gift in 1954 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the first ever U.S.-Japanese  treaty being signed(that they were forced into this is something the Japanese seem gracious enough to overlook).  Now it stands as a symbol of friendship between the two countries.

The Lantern

The Lantern

Getting there a little beforehand, we got to watch the musicians rehearse before being allowed to sit down.  There was the normal ceremonial stuff, including the singing of both the U.S. and Japanese national anthems, and a bilingual invocation, one that did not forget it also happened to be Easter Sunday.

Reverend Junichi Saigo.

Reverend Junichi Saigo.

There was also a lot of music; even after the rehearsal, much of it was performed before the ceremony started, including the Japanese Choral Society of Washington singing “America the Beautiful” in English and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in Japanese.  During the ceremony proper they sang(what else?) “Sakura Sakura,” an instrument version of which was also played beautifully by the Washington Toho Koto Society.  But the real musical highlights were provided by the married Japanese-American couple Mark H. Rooney & Kristen Koyama on the taiko drums, both before and during the ceremony.  Masters of their craft, they pretty much stole the show.

This picture is from their rehearsals; once seated, I was too far back to get any good photos of any of the musical performers.

This picture is from their rehearsals; once seated, I was too far back to get any good photos of any of the musical performers.

Most of the speakers were either corporate, short in their speeches, or both.  However, Japanese ambassador Kenichiro Sasae gave a very good speech: funny, knowledgeable, and properly idealistic.

I wish my photo of him had come out better.

I wish my photo of him had come out better.

Finally, the ceremony ended with the lighting of the lantern.  It will remain lit(as least as much as the wind and other weather allows) for the remainder of the festival.

Lantern lit by Natsuko Yumoto, named 2015 Embassay of Japan Cherry Blossom Princess as part of a long-running cultural exchange program.

Lantern lit by Natsuko Yumoto, named 2015 Embassay of Japan Cherry Blossom Princess as part of a long-running cultural exchange program.

I ended up going home shortly after, if only because the ceremony, which began at roughly 2:30, lasted much longer than I’d thought it would.  But I did take a change to sit by the water and get a close look at some more of the budding cherry blossom branches.

You can see the petals are formed, even if they weren't out yet.

You can see the petals are formed, even if they weren’t out yet.

I’ve got a date on Sunday to go walking in the tidal basin, and I hope for the trees to be fully bloomed then.

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