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An 18th century Japanese print shows a girl in a kimono, looking though a window at blooming cherry trees on the banks of a river.
This landscape shows cherry blossoms on the east bank of the Sumida River, still a famous destination for viewing the trees first planted there in the 18th century. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Japanese Culture Day at the Library of Congress

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If your family is in the Washington D.C. area on Saturday, April 1st, we would love to see you at the Thomas Jefferson Building for Japanese Culture Day. This celebration is one of the Library’s most popular family-friendly traditions, and a chance for children of all ages to learn about Japanese culture through stories, books, collection items and crafts.

The day’s activities include origami, calligraphy, creating decorative Koinobori banners, coloring projects inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, and more. There’ll even be Cherry Blossom Princesses on hand for a tiara- making activity! Join Library staff from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., with harp performances at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Japanese storytelling sessions (Kamishibai) are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. You’ll need free timed entry passes for building entry; a limited number are available at 9:00 a.m. daily, but it’s a good idea to get them in advance if possible.

A Japanese lantern stone sculpture, standing under flowering cherry trees.
Cherry trees along the Tidal Basin, Washington DC, with Japanese lantern placed in the park in 1954.
From the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

With luck, Japanese Culture Day might overlap with cherry blossom season, one of the prettiest sights in Washington and a sure sign that spring is well and truly here. The area’s largest cluster of Japanese cherry trees burst into spectacular bloom around the Tidal Basin near the National Mall and monuments, drawing crowds in their thousands. The spectacle is all the more special due to the brief time the pink and white blossoms last; it can be cut short by wind, rain, or a late snowstorm. The highlight of the short season is the Cherry Blossom Festival, celebrated every year, with much crossing of fingers that the festival dates will coincide with the flowering of the trees!

The Tidal Basin cherry trees have a long history.  On March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first trees there, part of a gift from Japan to the United States. You can read all about the event and how the trees came to D.C. in the blog post Field of Cherries.

Two young women wearing kimonos, standing under cherry blossom, Washington DC1925
Women wearing kimonos under cherry blossoms, Washington DC, 1925.
Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library’s huge collections include many items related to cherry trees and to Japan. Two of the original 1912 trees are on Library grounds, transplanted to thin out the seedlings at the Tidal Basin. The Asian Reading Room is home to the Japanese Collection that the Library began to acquire in the late 1800’s. You can learn about some of the rarest, digitized holdings here. Cherry blossom references crop up in the music collections, as described in a piece from the Library’s Performing Arts blog. Chronicling America, a digitized collection of historic newspapers, includes a research guide devoted to cherry blossom trees.  The exhibition Sakura: Cherry Blossoms as Living Symbols of Friendship opened to mark the centennial of the 1912 gift. Other resources include a video tour of the exhibition, and a beautiful accompanying book featuring items from the collections.

If you can’t join us for Japanese Culture Day this year, why not have your own cherry blossom festival at home? The pretty, delicate flowers are perfect for homemade crafting of all kinds. Even if there are no cherry trees nearby for some real “hanami” or blossom viewing, with access to the Library website, a printer and some paper or cardstock you can come up with inventive and creative ways to celebrate this brief season.

The Library’s Free to Use and Reuse Sets of Cherry Blossoms and Japanese Prints  provide plenty of copyright-free images that you can adapt however you wish. Printing out photographs or pictures is a quick and easy way to produce attractive bookmarks that would make lovely gifts packaged up with a book or two. Alternatively, why not try your hand at making origami cherry blossoms? The art of paper folding, has a long history in Japanese culture, as shown in this print from the 1770’s. There are many online resources for origami flowers, some of which are quite easy and quick to do, after a little practice. Try making cherry blossoms from tissue, crepe or any kind of paper you have on hand, or from downloaded images from the collections. Once you have a batch of flowers, tape them to some bare branches or make a decorative garland. Another way to decorate would be to use these coloring sheets, featuring images from Japanese woodblock prints in the collections.

Tissue paper cherry blossoms and bookmarks made with cherry blossom images from the Library
Homemade paper cherry blossoms and bookmarks inspired by Library collections.

Even if you don’t see any blooming cherry trees in the next few weeks, we hope the images and resources above will put you in a happy, spring-like frame of mind! The Library’s Japanese Culture Day is an annual event, so we hope to see you at a future celebration if you’re unable to join us on April 1st this year.




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