- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The time of year when the nation’s capital becomes awash in a sea of pink has arrived again.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival starts March 28 and runs through April 12, with more than a million visitors expected to stroll through the 3,700 cherry trees circling the Tidal Basin and participate in festival events.

Highlights of the celebration include a floating tea house and an opening day performance by Japanese sensation and Pittsburgh native Jerome White Jr.

Mr. White, known as Jero in Japan, sings “enka,” which he has likened to traditional Japanese blues, says Maryssa Miller, assistant to the cultural attache at the Embassy of Japan. Mr. White, who is Japan’s first black enka crooner, grew up dancing hip-hop and singing enka with his Japanese grandmother.

“He’s brought a new breath of fresh air into the enka, because it’s been a kind of dying art,” Miss Miller said.

On April 4, chefs from the District and Maryland will compete in the East Coast’s first SushiMasters event. The competition was founded by the California Rice Commission. Contestants create a sushi combination plate, then design their own signature roll. They’ll have 22 minutes to do so in each category, and judges will score them on style, technical skills and originality. The winner will compete in the SushiMasters finals this fall.

The traditional boat rides on the Potomac River are back, and so will be the cherry-inspired cocktails and dishes at area restaurants. The peak bloom dates are expected to be April 1 through 4.

Those weary of the crowds also can see the blossoms at such places as the National Arboretum, which has 2,000 cherry tree species across 446 acres.

Other, non-floral options for visitors include following in the footsteps of President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, with a self-guided tour of places they’ve visited or that have connections to the first family.

For example, the Abraham Lincoln Bible that Mr. Obama used during his oath of office is on display through May 9 at the Library of Congress.

Another idea is a visit to the historic Hay-Adams Hotel, where the Obamas stayed before moving into the White House.

Those with a special interest in food can enjoy some Southern flavor at Georgia Brown’s restaurant, where Mrs. Obama had her first lunch outing. (She ordered fried catfish, fried green tomatoes and peach cobbler.)

There also are several new or newly renovated attractions that have opened in the city in the past year, including the National Museum of American History. The museum recently reopened after a two-year renovation and features a display of the flag that inspired the national anthem.

Ford’s Theatre, where President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, reopened in February after an extensive renovation. The Tony-nominated production “The Civil War” - a musical tribute to people affected by that war - runs from March 27 through May 24.

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