While the Japanese tradition of celebrating cherry blossoms might be ancient, this year’s edition of “Sakura Matsuri” at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden features a slate of utterly contemporary music, theater, fine art and more.
The two-day cherry blossom festival, which takes over the Prospect Heights garden this weekend, is hoping to attract even more visitors with an infusion of programs geared to a new generation of Japan-o-philes.
Visitors will find the usual hits on the schedule — such as demonstrations of “ikebana” (flower arranging), a tea ceremony, and lots of classical Japanese dance and music — augmented by the installation of the new “Sakura J-Lounge” featuring four DJs — with four distinct styles performing on different days and times — in the Osborne Garden.
“As you walk in from the Eastern Parkway entrance, you’ll see we’ve created this lounge scenario in this big Italian garden,” said Anita Jacobs, who curates the programs for “Sakura Matsuri.”
“My intention is that as you walk in, you’ll hear great music. In past years, if you entered on Eastern Parkway, you used to have to walk a ways to get a taste of the festival.”
Jacobs has enlisted DJs from New York and beyond to spin in her al fresco lounge.
“One of the real draws will be DJ2Thirteen, who hosts a radio show out of Boston,” said Jacobs. “He will be spinning anime-themed J-rock and J-pop [on May 4 at 3:30 pm].”
This festival will tap into “manga” mania with a presentation and book signing by “Manga for Dummies” creator Kensuke Okabayashi on both days. Jacobs said that in the past, his demonstrations have been popular with everyone from “graphic designers to first graders who want to learn how to draw comic book art.”
“Both ‘anime’ and ‘manga’ have exploded in Japan and really hit this country like crazy,” said Jacobs. “I call it the gateway to Japanese culture. [After exposure to ‘manga’], pre-teen and young adult audiences want to learn everything about Japanese culture — they want to go to a traditional tea ceremony.”
While the garden’s director of public programs has been selecting the entertainment for the festival for years, even she has been blown away by her success. J-pop band ZAN, which came from Japan to play 2007’s fest, is returning this year with an expanded show.
“What I love about them is that they’re using traditional instruments in a modern way,” said Jacobs, who was startled by the ardor of their fans last year. “Suddenly I hear screaming teenagers and kids are crying like it was a Beatles concert. When they came off the stage, we had to bring in extra security because people were trying to rip their clothes off.” So of course, ZAN wants to play Brooklyn again, and they’ll take the Cherry Esplanade stage at 4 pm on Saturday.
In addition to this cutting edge talent, there will be a Kyoto kimono fashion show modeled by retired geishas, followed by a screening of Miyuki Sohara’s documentary “Hannari: Geisha Modern,” about the lives of contemporary Japanese women who practice geisha arts.
While Jacobs has programmed two days of performances, visual arts and demonstrations, it bears repeating that all of this fuss is about those delicate blossoms, especially the showy “kanzan” trees along the Cherry Esplanade, which are now in peak bloom according to the garden’s Web site, www.bbg.org.
To explain what the fuss is all about, Jacobs has enlisted the help of Provence, France-based L’Occitane, which will have a representative at the festival at noon on Sunday. Anne Cecile Brilland will give a talk on how L’Occitane harvests their organically grown blossoms, extracts the fragrance and their process of making their new line of cherry blossom perfumes.
And for those who want to take their “Sakura Matsuri” experience home with them, there will be samples of L’Occitane’s cherry blossom fragrances, Japanese food and gift shops, as well as vendors selling everything from dolls to oversize, decorative sushi-shaped pillows.
While Brooklynites might take for granted the bounty of blossoms they have in their backyard, Jacobs says it’s not unusual to have visitors from around the globe visit the garden during “Sakura Matsuri.”
“A lot of visitors come from Japan to this festival. It’s lucky for us that spring break in Japan happens around festival time,” explained Jacobs. “People do travel the world to see cherries: first to Tokyo, then to Washington D.C. then to New York to experience ours.”
“Sakura Matsuri” runs from 10 am to 6 pm on May 3 and 4 at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (900 Washington Ave. at Eastern Parkway in Prospect Heights). Admission is $8, $4 seniors and students and free for children younger than 12. For more information, call (718) 623-7200 or visit the Web site www.bbg.org.