2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival April 30, 2012Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Japan, Otaku.
Tags: 2012, Cherry Blossom Festival, Cosplay, Japantown, Sakura Matsuri, San Francisco
I attended the 2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom which was held in San Francisco’s Japantown April 14,15, 21, with the grand parade taking place on the 22. All photos taken can be found at my Flickr set: 2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival
This year’s Cherry Blossom Festival was a mixed bag for me. I only went to the second weekend of the festival which was the weekend of the parade. Usually I would go as much as I would, like going to the first weekend of the festival, but one major thing really held me back and made me feel uneasy. What I’m talking about is school, specifically Journalism assignments that were to be done about Japantown. As a beginning photojournalist, its hard to deal with behind the scenes people, especially if you don’t have connections, experience, and time. For my photojournalism class final project, I was planning to takes photos of a behind-the-scenes kind of thing for the festival, sort of like set up of the festival in the form of office meetings and stuff like that. Unfortunately as I only started the project in early April, when e-mailing the Festival organizers, they responded with a disheartening message telling me that it was too late to get any photos of the planning and meetings and that it would be “misleading”. I know that time wise I wasn’t in the best position to argue any more after that, but even then the earliest I could of asked was mid-March due to the assignment being made then, and I might of gotten the same response. I know it’s partially my fault for not working on it a bit earlier, but if I at least got a few photos of the final plans being made in a final meeting before the festival started, then to me that would of been the money shot. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get a hold of those photos made me feel a bit unwilling to go to the place that I felt a bit shunned from, even though its Japantown, one of my favorite places of the city. Because of this and the fact that I was busy with a few other things the first weekend of the festival, I didn’t go then. End of that story.
I went the the festival on the second weekend, on Saturday the 21 and Sunday the 22. On Saturday, I got to Japantown at about past 11am or so. My goal for today was to take some photos of behind-the-scenes of some performances at the JCCNC (Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California) building in the North section of Japantown, with some overall shots of the festival as well at Japantown due to that I was going to be at City Hall for a while the next day for preparations for the parade. The weather was pretty warm for San Francisco that day; it wasn’t helping that I was wearing dark colors with a backpack to carry. When I got to the JCCNC building, there was set up for a Koto performance. I got a few shots there, but for the most part I just rested there because it was cool and nice to hear some traditional Japanese music with some live performance. Afterwards I went out and grabbed something to eat; I always get some spam musubi because it is one of my most favorite things to eat, especially at a festival, along with a can of Guava Hawaiian Sun. I took more photos around the place still thinking about where to get more behind-the-scene type shots. I was thinking that getting some photos of set up of Taiko woul be good, so I looked up when the next Taiko performance would be. I saw that there was one at 7:30pm back at the JCCNC; it was around 4pm when I decided to pop into the JCCNC to see if I could get them setting up before their performance. I got pretty lucky with this, and an amusing story to tell.
What happened was that I went into the event area just as the last performance was finishing up before the Taiko Dojo people was to set up and practice three hours before the scheduled Taiko Festival performance. I was able to take some nice photos of their behind-the-scenes set-up of the stage, and see a little bit of what they were going to perform at their performance later tonight. What made this amusing was the fact that this was a closed practice, so one that was closed off to the public. I noticed that they were asking people who was not part of the performance to leave the auditorium after the last performance finished before the Taiko Dojo started to set up. While that was going on I decided to take photos while there was other people around still and also while they were setting up, because I needed behind-the-scenes photos for my Photojournalism class. When it seemed that everyone who was not suppose to be there was out, I noticed that they didn’t ask me to leave. I’m guessing that I looked as if I was part of the back stage people, a photographer for them or something. While thinking I could actually wait for the show to start and get a good seat since I was “first”, I read the Cherry Blossom Festival program to waste some time. Looking over the Taiko Festival performance that I was waiting for in the program, I noticed that the performance I was waiting for was actually a pay to see event. I thought it was free. Right after the read that however, one of the staff finally asked me if I was with someone of the Taiko Dojo people. I told them that I was just a photographer, not with anyone, and that was when I finally left. It was about 6:30pm I think that I was kicked out. While I wasn’t able to trick my way into seeing the Taiko performance, I still got some decent shots of them setting up and practicing their drumming pieces.
Pretty much after that I went home. I knew I needed my energy for tomorrow’s Cherry Blossom Festival Grand Parade starting at San Francisco’s Civic Center.
The morning of April 22, I head out to Civic Center to get there at about 11am or so. The parade starts at 1pm; I arrive early to take some setting up shots of the parade getting ready for my Photojournalism photostory project. When I get to Civic Center however, I’m surprised to see a city (within a city) of white tents set up all over Civic Center. At first I was not sure what those tents were for, as previous Cherry Blossom Festivals did not do something like this. Walking though the white forest of tents, I look for any sign of the cosplayers that I focusing on for the parade. I finally spot them in the north west corner of Civic Center and found out that the white tents are for a Earth Day event. I didn’t even know it was Earth Day today; I guess that it just happened to fall on a Sunday this year. Now with both Earth Day celebrations and Cherry Blossom Festival Grand Parade being held in relatively the same areas, it was a more crowded than ever. It wasn’t too bad though, actually it made things a bit more interesting. When I thought about the previous years going to Civic Center for the pre-parade stuff, it felt a little bit empty but plenty of space for cosplayers for photo ops.
The couple of hours before the start of the parade, I mainly took photos of cosplayers, parade floats getting ready, and performances practicing. I was running around so much, I guess what kept me from getting tired was adrenaline and the feel to do a good job as a photographer and for my PJ assignment. Finally at quarter past 1pm, the Cosplay contest segment of the parade left Civic Center to walk to Japantown along the parade route. This was my second time walking within the parade, and it felt very much similar to what I experienced last year. The only difference was that I had a better camera now and so felt like a true photographer that was walking with us as well. The photos I took from the parade part of the festival, in my opinion, were not as great as last year’s that I took I think. I’m guessing that the photo moments were not as great as last year’s, though I have to admit that the cosplay was better and tighter in quality than last year’s Cosplay Contest. Of course I have to thank Ray Nagar, who is one of the people who leads the Cosplay contest people, for allowing me to follow the Cosplay contest segment of the parade.
After arriving back in Japantown, I grabbed a bite to eat before making my way to the Peace Plaza stage for the Cosplay Contest results. I already knew who won as the winners are decided back at Civic Center, though photos were still needed to be taken. The winners get to ride on a float of their own, pulled by a UPS truck. While waiting for the award ceremony to start, I met up with some other fellow photographers that I know and talked a bit with them before the show went underway. Besides the Cosplay Contest, there was also a talent show kind of thing, which focuses on cosplayers and their talents, whether that be dancing, singing, etc. There was a couple of good ones and a few bad ones. Overall the whole show was fun and interesting. Afterwards, I chatted with some other friends for a while until leaving for home once the weather got cold again.
The 2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival was as usual an enjoyable event, though I don’t feel that it was as good as last year’s for a couple of reasons. For one thing, with my Photojournalism assignment that was always looming over my head, I felt a bit pressured to take specific photos that were hard to take. I knew I could do it but the thought of missing an important shot that could make or break my assignment was always on my mind. Never again will I choose to use an event I enjoy to go to for an assignment. I hate how I killed my enthusiasm for the festival I always look forward to every year with this assignment. I’ll need more experience before I can balance work and play together.
Secondly, I noticed that there wasn’t as many people around in this year’s festival as opposed to last year. I’m pretty sure it has to do with how last year’s Cherry Blossom Festival was a month after the Japan Tohouku earthquake, and people were in “helping mode”, donating money and what not to organizations like the Red Cross. There was so much recovery efforts last year that brought in so many people willing to come to support Japan. This year however, people have already reached their limit for “helping.” I’m not saying that people don’t want to help out, but just like with any big natural disaster and the recovery efforts that come after that, it dies down after a while which is only natural. This year’s Cherry Blossom Festival showed that the extra amount of people that came last year probably came because of the earthquake. It felt quite mellow this year’s festival, or should I say less lively. It was still a great festival none the less, and you can bet I’ll be around for next year’s San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival, hopefully with more photography experience to really take the best photos possible that I can do. I know I didn’t do that great this year in terms of photos, I guess I aimed for quantity over quality, something that I always aim to do the opposite of. This year is more of an experimental year for me in photography, as I only have had my Canon Rebel T3 for about half a year and am currently taking photography classes at my college campus. I’m always aiming to better myself in any skill, as I believe that as long as I do something, it will lead to something more.