2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: Ramen Tree + Choichi Kai

The 2011 Cherry Blossom Festival of Southern California went off without a hitch, and I was on-deck to experience both days of the festivities. Come inside as I give you a tour of the food, music, dancing, and cultural demonstrations that made up for one strange weathered weekend and why you should consider going to next year’s event.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: Three's Company For Metrolink Weekends

First of all, consider taking a trip either by car or public transit. We decided to take the Metrolink rail system from Anaheim to Los Angeles’ Union Station to take us to and fro for only $10 the entire weekend! Our train departed at 8:34 in the morning, and we arrived at Union Station by 9:30am; impressive!

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: Bunny Ears

The more I go to Little Tokyo in L.A., the more I start to realize how much cultural festival are associated with anime/manga pop culture. As we prepared to get off the train and into the belly of Union Station’s foot traffic-laden underground passageways, I wanted to get a casual snapshot of a train rider getting up from her second-level train car seat. Little did I know that a pair of bunny ears sandwiched between girls wearing pink and yellow wigs were clear across the train car and in the center of my camera’s viewfinder. Lesson learned: if you plan to dress up in celebration for a local Japanese culture event and you’re hesitant about being the only one on the local transit doing so, fear not – others will more than likely dress up as well!

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: Union Station Bustle

Speaking of foot traffic, it didn’t seem so bad on the Saturday I took this photo. As a matter of fact, I’ve only taken the train on the weekends a few times now, and this is probably the busiest I’ve ever seen it. I wonder what midweek commutes are like.

So what is there to do on a train besides stair out the window and/or listen to music or read something? Easy, if you have an iPad like Anthony does! This photo was taken on the second day, where we played several rounds of Hanafudu/Koi-Koi using Kiki’s Koi Koi app for iOS devices. I not only learned some of the basic card combinations between each month, but also had some rather intense match-ups with Kiki, the program designer and resident NPC for the game. There’s nothing like yelling ‘koi-koi!’ on a train car with just you, a couple of your friends, and some random strangers.

Still curious about what Hanafuda is? Check out the full-length anime feature below that used it as one of its primary storytelling tools:

Our games weren’t as intense as Summer Wars made it to be, but the game itself sure is addicting whether you’re up by a few points or struggling to catch up.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 2: Food Truck Haven

What’s an outdoor festival nowadays without at least one or two food trucks to go around. In our case, there were as many as four trucks out at a time to satisfy festival-goers’ appetites. My truck of choice? The Mighty Boba Truck. And while I didn’t actually try their milk teas with any boba (it was way too hot not to pass up an opportunity for some good ‘ol bottled water), I did order a very delicious dish:

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 2: The Great Boba Truck's Buttermilk Popcorn Chicken

This was a Mighty Heros Buttermilk Popcorn Chicken Lunch Box with rice and veggies for $6. While the food was very tasty, I think the price could have been bumped down an extra dollar.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: The Fry Guy's Sea Salt Fries

In addition to food trucks were booths on the opposite end of the festival grounds. Surprisingly, not a lot of Japanese festival food you’d come to expect out of summer festivals. It seemed as though we had to travel outside of the grounds and into Little Tokyo’s plazas for the real treats. However, that didn’t stop us from trying the Fry Guy‘s belgian fries. The best part about the fries? All of the sauces:

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: The Fry Guy's Ketchup Collection

All of the ketchup containers were labeled clearly except for the curry ketchup. Now, for a Japanese cultural festival in the near the heart of Little Tokyo, why would you have the curry ketchup be the hardest ketchup to find? Hmm.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: Ramen Tree, On Stage

Onto the performances! The entire festival grounds reminded me of those big, outdoor rock festivals where several stages featured various artists, usually depending on significance and musical theme of the band (i.e. my first Bamboozle Left experience at Cal Poly Pamona’s fields back in 2006). The stages consisted of J-Pop (where you can see the Ramen Tree performing in the photo above), the Blossom Stage (where we saw the Panache Orchestra put on a really energetic show), the Martial Arts Stage (shinkendo fans, unite!), and the Hawaiian Village Stage (where we had time to check out some of the Fujima Kansei Odori activities in place of the Hawaiian performances).

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 2: Cosplay Craze

Not surprisingly, the majority of our time was spent at the J-Pop stage, where Ramen Tree, Choichi Kai, fashion show divas, and several cosplay enthusiasts gathered to show off their talents.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 2: Shinkendo + Sparring

Heading over to the martial arts stage, we witnessed shinkendo, which consisted of several sword-fighting techniques and sparring practices using ‘bokken’ and real katana. It wasn’t until after the show was done that I realized how fatal it would have been for someone to lost their grip on a katana; ouch! I’m glad that didn’t happen, and I’m sure the entire audience felt the same!

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: Mini-Mono Details

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: KissKissJP Booth

The selection of booths this year consisted mostly of service vendors as opposed to general food and prize booths you might typically see at summer festivals. Some were selling plants of all kinds, services to fly out of the country, products to purify your water; even GMC was there to show off their cars:

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 2: Escorted Kitty

Even Hello Kitty made her appearance! And at numerous locations, too.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 2

Aside from commercial and private booths, the cultural tent in the middle of the festival highlighted much of the history of Japanese culture since the Japanese-American internment back in 1942. It was a rather emotional area to be in, but it was definitely worth paying some time and respect to those who were veterans, so to speak, of the event.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 2: Sunlit Plaza

Like any other cultural festival taking place in Little Tokyo, there’s time to check out the area around it. Thankfully, the plazas and shopping centers are just a few minutes walking distance from the festival, where you can eat, drinkrelax, and even run into some more friends!

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: Train Delay

Another great thing about the area is that even if you’re waiting for over an hour for your delayed train to make its way to your connecting station, you can always take the every-15-minute Gold Line train back to Little Tokyo and go shop or eat some more!

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: Pokemon Badge Analysis

Instead, we opted to stick around in the hopes that the train would actually arrive within the hour-long delay and try to figure out what all of Allison’s Pokemon badges meant. I’ve long since given up on the game and series ever since Red and Blue way back when, so none of the badges made sense to me.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: Badge Referencing

When in doubt, use your smartphone to find out the answers! It’s amazing to see how even Brock and Misty seem to have changed in appearance over the years.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 2: Networking

On a side note, I’m still pretty excited that I’ve been getting some results back with handing out my business cards. Thanks to meeting new people like Boon, Yuki, Shiki, and Jeff through Anthony, we got to have some more fun around Little Tokyo before waiting for our evening train to arrive and take us back home.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: Konatographer + Train

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 1: Konata + Book

I think we all had a good amount of fun between the festival and wandering the shopping and restaurant areas of Little Tokyo. Not sure when the next festival will be, but hopefully we’ll all get to at least have one more outing together before Pacific Media Expo in November.

2011 Cherry Blossom Festival, Day 2: No Ayane Hatred Here

On a final (and anime-related) note, it looks as though Ayane Taketatsu still has a few devoted fans despite the revelation that she’s seeing someone. See? Voice actresses can still have lives and fans at the same time! I seriously thought the news her hardcore fans were negatively amplifying across the net were rather..extreme, to say the least.

Photo coverage of the Cherry Blossom Festival at my flickr page here: Day 1 and Day 2