(Buddy Secor, Courtesy National…)
When it comes to spring color, Washington knows how to put on a show.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival blossoms each year to commemorate the gift of some 3,000 cherry trees from Tokyo to the nation's capital in 1912.
While the festival had modest beginnings, the event has since evolved into a springtime celebration that attracts millions of visitors from around the world.
"It's truly amazing how a gift from over 100 years ago has now reached so many people," says Diana Mayhew, the festival's president.
This year, that gift will keep on giving, as an expected 1.5 million people descend upon the nation's capitol to see the blooming cherry trees in Washington's Tidal Basin. According to Mayhew, the trees are doing very well after the relatively mild winter. Peak bloom, or when 70 percent of the trees are in flower, will not come as early this year because of recent cold temperatures. UPDATE: Officials forecast the majority of the blooms will be making their grand appearances April 6-8.
Activities for the festival, which runs through April 14, have already begun with the second annual City in Bloom campaign, a program that unites the region in the spirit of the event through special lighting, promotional stickers and banners.
"And this year, we're pinking up the city even more than normal," Mayhew says.
Pink-blossom decals and banners will be displayed on taxis and inside Metro stations, as well as in places such as the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art and the National Archives. Other buildings will use blossom projections and pink lighting, including the Newseum and Ronald Reagan National Airport.
But the festival isn't just about the flowers.
"It's about rebirth and renewal, but it's also about two cultures coming together," says festival spokeswoman Danielle Piacente, referring to how the event began in the first place.
City in Bloom reaches back to those roots this year, making the pink campaign global. In addition to displaying a live cherry tree in its restaurant, Hard Rock Cafe Tokyo will be lit up in pink for the duration of the festival in conjunction with Hard Rock Cafe Washington. Blue Note Tokyo, a jazz club in Japan, will also join other Washington-area buildings in pink lighting.
The festival's opening ceremonies will take place at the Warner Theatre on Saturday. This year, attendees will experience the story of how the gift of the cherry trees has evolved into a springtime celebration through performances by American pop musician Andy Grammer, jazz pianist Chihiro Yamanaka and violinist Nanae Iwata.
The festival will hold its fifth annual Cherry Blast on March 29, drawing the younger crowd for a night of music and art.
Taste of Japan, a culinary event for ages 21 and up, will also return this year on April 4 at the Carnegie Library.
"For this event, local restaurants come together to celebrate the cuisine of the country," says Piacente. "In addition to food, there will also be sake and craft beer made by brewers from Japan."
Throughout the festival, other Washington-area restaurants will also be offering cherry blossom and spring-inspired foods and cocktails.
On April 6, the Southwest Waterfront community will host an afternoon of live music, food trucks and family activities leading up to the annual fireworks spectacular over the Washington Channel. The best viewing areas for the show are at 6th and Water streets S.W. and in East Potomac Park.
The festivities will conclude with the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, from 10 a.m. to noon, on April 13. A marching band composed of more than 100 members from two Maryland high schools — Havre de Grace and Westminster — was created for this year's event. There will also be performances by Elliott Yamin of "American Idol" fame, Washington native and Grammy Award-winning R&B artist Mýa, and the 2013 Miss America, New York's Mallory Hagan.
Other events scheduled include a kite-flying festival, tours and activities at local museums before the festival comes to a close on April 14.
"D.C. is definitely the place to be for spring," says Piacente. "There's nowhere else like it."
National Cherry Blossom Festival highlights
The opening ceremony will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. N.W., Washington. Tickets are free, but advance registration is required. Go to 2013ncbfceremony.eventbrite.com.
Cherry Blast: Art + Music Dance Party takes place at 8 p.m. March 29 at 500 Penn St. N.E. Tickets are $10. Go to cherryblast.eventbrite.com.
Taste of Japan will be held at 7 p.m. April 4 at the Carnegie Library, 801 K St. N.W. Early admission begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $100-$150. Go to tasteofjapan.eventbrite.com.
Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival will begin at 1 p.m. April 6 from Sixth Street to Ninth Street along Water Street S.W. Fireworks start at 8:30 p.m. Free.
National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. The parade will take place at 10 a.m. April 13 along Constitution Ave. from 7th St. to 17th St. N.W. Tickets for grandstand seating are $20. Go to ticketmaster.com.
For more information on the festival, go to nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.