- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

Tens of thousands of cherry blossom pilgrims from across the region and the world yesterday braved chilly weather to enjoy the marching bands and colorful floats of the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade.
"This is a great event because it draws people from all over," said Donald Johnson, who watched his daughter, Amy, who attends Leonard Hall Junior Naval Academy, march in the parade along Constitution Avenue from Seventh to 17th streets NW.
Mr. Johnson, who drove with his wife, Terri, to the District from Leonardtown, Md., said that "we were standing between people from California, New York and Georgia."
The National Cherry Blossom Festival typically draws more than 700,000 visitors each year.
The Johnsons said they didn't mind standing in yesterday's nippy breeze but they did wish the parade were held a few days earlier, when the cherry blossoms were at their peak. "The blossoms are going away now because the wind is blowing them off the trees," Mr. Johsnon said. "The parade's about a week late."
Early last month, the National Park Service's chief horticulturalist, Robert DeFeo, predicted April 1 through April 5 to be the peak bloom period of the more than 3,700 cherry trees in Northwest.
The first cherry trees were presented to the nation's capital in 1912 as a gift from the mayor of Tokyo on behalf of the Japanese government. Mr. DeFeo said about 112 trees from the original donation still are standing in the District.
Japanese officials say the Cherry Blossom Festival is one of "the best in the world" because it provides an opportunity for people in this area and from around the nation to build an awareness of Japanese culture.
The parade, replete with school and military marching bands, police on horsback, clowns and cultural floats representing dozens of countries and ethnicities, is considered by many to be the festival's marquee event. It alone draws an average of 100,000 visitors annually.
Darshan and Nicole Kaler, with 1-year-old baby girl Maya, said they weren't going to let any unexpectedly biting breeze stop them from enjoying the parade. "We missed it last year because Maya was being born," Mrs. Kaler said.
"This is very exciting," Mr. Kaler said. "It is cold, but they're marching all the way through." He added that Maya particularly enjoyed the police sirens. "She loves that," he said. "She lifted her head up to see them."
Yoichi Murakami said he was surprised to see so many non-Japanese enjoying the festivities. "I didn't know there were so many Americans that would be here," he said. "I imagined only Japanese who are living in America would come to see this."
The 28-year-old, who lives in Philladelphia, said the cherry blossoms are very special to the Japanese because they symbolize the arrival of spring.
The blossoms also hold special significance for Koreans. Kim Sun-ho, who with his wife and daughter is visiting from South Korea, said: "I have seen the cherry blossoms so many times in my country, but this festival is bigger and more amusing than the ones in South Korea."
This year's National Cherry Blossom Festival, which ends tommorrow, marks the 90th anniversary of the flowery trees being planted in Washington. "In Korea, we have so many young trees," Mr. Kim said. "Here the trees are older."
A smattering of the trees, whose knotted limbs wind away from their trunks like the strong fingers of an aged hand, can be found just southwest of the Washington Monument on the National Mall.
The pink-and-white-petaled limbs are most famous and perhaps most cherished for the surreal atmosphere they create lining the Tidal Basin near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and East Potomac Park.

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