- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

The annual Cherry Blossom Festival Parade unofficially ushered the District into spring yesterday, despite brisk temperatures that made it seem more like winter for parade-goers.

But the unseasonably cold weather plaguing the region recently didn’t put a chill on the festivities, as thousands lined Constitution Avenue in Northwest to get a glimpse of the 95th annual parade.

In fact, some spectators were grateful for the weather, with memories of a heavy rainfall soaking last year’s parade still fresh.

“The weather was nice this year, which was good,” said Charles Melton, 60, of Suitland, who said he attends the parade nearly every year. “A little cold, but it’s better than what it was like last year. The kids enjoy it more, and with the floats and everything, [cold temperatures] are better than rain.”

Diana Mayhew, the executive director of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, said the recent cold snap didn’t affect yesterday’s turnout or the festival overall, though inclement weather during the week dissipated most of the blossoms before yesterday’s parade.

“Some days it’s warm, some days it’s cold,” she said. “Rain does have more of an effect [on attendance]. But with the cold weather, most people just throw on the coat and gloves,” she said.

This year’s festival, which began March 31 and ends today, marks the 95th anniversary of the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Tokyo. The festival annually generates about 1 million visitors and $150 million in tourism money to the city — benchmarks Miss Mayhew expects the festival met this year.

The bleachers stayed relatively full until the end of the parade, which included a variety of decorated floats, a dance troupe from Tamagawa University in Tokyo, marching bands and military and specialty units from around the country.

Stanley Morris of Silver Spring and his brother, Steven, two first-timers at the parade, said they finally got around to attending after years of admiring the cherry trees.

“We had always heard about the Cherry Blossom Parade from other people,” said Steven, 40. “We always go to D.C. parades but we’ve never been to this one. I made sure that I had the day off from work so I wouldn’t miss it.”

Stanley, 40, said he was busy star-gazing as the floats passed by.

“I was really looking forward to seeing the celebrities that showed up, since I missed [singer] Martha Wash performing at last year’s parade,” he said.

Notable guests included past “American Idol” finalist Ace Young, R&B; singer Maxine Nightingale and D.C.-based vocal quintet Sweet Honey in the Rock. Mickey and Minnie Mouse served as the parade’s grand marshals.

The parade wrapped up with a new feature — a Pan-Asian mix of drumming and dance performed by more than 100 local artists.

In addition, the 46th annual Sakura Matsuri, a Japanese street festival, began at the conclusion of the parade.

The street festival — which was presented by the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C. — serves as nation’s largest one-day exhibition of Japanese culture, featuring more 30 vendors of Japanese and Asian cuisine and products.

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