NEW YORK (AP) – A crowd of photographers jostled beneath weeping Higan cherry trees in the Japanese hill-and-pond garden, trying to get shots of the Samurai Sword Soul performers and attracting a family of hungry mallard ducks.

The scene was just a hint of the cheerful mayhem that will ensue this weekend, when the Brooklyn Botanic Garden celebrates its 24th annual Sakura Matsuri, or cherry blossom festival.

Besides Tuesday’s Samurai show, there will be haiku readings, art exhibits, taiko drumming and a hanagasa odori (flower hat dance) parade.

The traditional dance, which will be performed by the Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York, was created about 100 years ago by field workers as a rhythmic device.

Planned activities include origami and flower arranging workshops for all ages, guided tours and temporary tattoos for kids.

“Our mission, essentially, is education,” said Anita Jacobs, director of public programs for the garden. “The festival is a great opportunity for us to teach people in New York about Japanese culture.”

Then there are those blossoms. The 52-acre garden has 220 cherry trees of 42 varieties, from the extravagant, robust Kanzan to the Ukon, whose blossoms emerge a pale green or yellow before maturing to an ivory hue.

“It’s a really striking progression,” Patrick Cullina, the garden’s vice president of horticulture, said of the subtle Ukon.

The need for up-close observation of the blossoming trees, he added, “is part of what makes this a participatory space, as opposed to one that you stand on the edge of and look into.”

Festival master of ceremonies and Samurai Sword Soul founder Amao is hoping for participation as well.

“I hope everyone in the garden will sing together,” he laughed, referring to musical sections in “The Way of the Samurai,” which his troupe will premiere on a stage in the main esplanade of Kanzan cherries. The short drama combines martial arts with Samurai philosophy, as well as less traditional elements.

“In Japan, Samurai groups are so traditional and conservative,” said Amao, who moved to New York from Japan in 1990. “But we are in New York – I like the free spirit of the American people. I don’t want to be obsessed with tradition.”

But he is mindful of it. Cherry blossoms have long been linked with the Samurai tradition in Japanese art and literature. Amao likened the fleeting power of the warriors with the blossoms’ ephemeral beauty.

“Samurai never regret – they are so focused on life,” he said. “It is a very short time, like the blossoms. They are beautiful for only 10 days. And then, shhhhhh – gone.”

Festival activities take place rain or shine, April 30 and May 1, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.



On the Net:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden: www.bbg.org

AP-ES-04-27-05 1335EDT


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