Thursday, May 5, 2016


The annual spring event focusing on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s alley of cherry trees was scheduled for Saturday, April 30th. The weather report was for a mostly cloudy day with temperatures way below normal for the last day in April. It was an up and down internal debate of should I go or shouldn't I. Turns out the diagnosis for the day was dead wrong. The day was perfect.
Unfortunately, perhaps, another hundred thousand visitors decided to heck with the report, they'd take advantage of the garden whether the weather cooperated or not.
The enticement of the smell of cherry blossoms and lilacs seemed far more alluring than the possibility of a few clouds and a slim threat of showers. The one thing I was unaware of was that it was more than just a day to wander through the allies of cherry blossom; it was also the weekend for Sakura Matsuri, an annual event celebrating traditional and contemporary Japanese culture. It was way more than I expected.
As beautiful and awe inspiring as the cherry blossoms were they were difficult to see or separate from the throngs of onlookers, picnickers and costumed revelers. There were areas of the park where you were literally pushed along by the crowd and wrangled by security. Even with that there was a heightened sense of excitement as hundreds of costumed attendees swept by in the opposite direction.
The costumed participants had clearly been doing this for quite some time their attire falling into some very distinct categories. This wasn't just something they all threw together last minute. There was an effort in these costumes that indicated a cultish dedication and lifestyle.
There were those who stepped back in Japanese lore of historical dress in gorgeous silk kimonos and embroidered obis, their hair bound in tight rolls and secured with chopsticks. They walked around in geta, the traditional Japanese footwear resembling a cross between a clog and a flip-flop impeding their gait as they minced their steps slowly spinning paper parasols.
Others took the traditional dress and upped the ante with theatrical makeup and neon colored wigs.
Then there were those with a Hello Kitty obsession.
It wasn't necessary to have any Japanese blood running through you either.
The event was open to all and especially those who were fans of anime.
It also explains the colorful hair and dress as well as the pointed ears and bizarre superhero worship. It was clearly a millennial fascination but one I couldn't help but appreciate.
It seemed a very inclusive branch of fantasy where gender is inconsequential
and villains are just as highly respected
as fairy princesses.
On a day so devoted to Japanese culture it was impossible to leave the garden without walking through the one hundred year-old Japanese Hill and Pond Garden.
The koi in the pond almost rival the muskies of Northern Wisconsin in size and the irises, wisteria and azaleas added color all around the pond.
We lived in Brooklyn, Park Slope, blocks from the gardens for over a decade. I can remember going to see the cherry blossoms each spring when the walk over there wasn't considered the safest place to go. The area has now gone through its gentrification with the price of condos, co-ops and rents hitting Manhattan levels. The area's safety and the event have definitely changed and I can only say for the better.
A block from our apartment on 89th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues is the entrance to the West Side Community Garden. Known for its free concerts and theater the garden also hosts a tulip festival every year for two weeks in April and May.
Right around the latter part of April 13,000 plus tulips show-off their immense variety and rainbow color hues as a gift to anyone lucky enough to stumble by. The park is only about the width of three brownstones but runs from 89th all the way through to 90th.
It's a tiered garden with planting beds laid out in a circular pattern. The tulips are planted each November and then dug up and stored once the blooms have withered away but when these bulbs all pop out there's a color riot that appears so enticing you can't help but stop to admire.
There are plots laid out in monochromatic harmony
while others mix contrasting colors
or focus strictly on pastels.
There are the varieties with petals resembling the spikey edges of a Venus flytrap seemingly waiting for their next insect meal.
Then there are others looking as if they'd be more comfortable floating in a pond mingling with their doppelganger lotus blossoms.
The garden was almost empty the first day I stopped to stroll through. It was brisk that Friday afternoon, much cooler than it should have been for late April.  One young Asian girl was there with her iPhone snapping pictures in much the same way I was. The only other people in the park were an older couple huddled together on a park bench. They were both wrapped up in winter parkas, he in a beat-up hat with a scarf neatly draped around his neck. A blue walker was parked in front of them. When I first saw them she had her head nestled on his shoulder, a very slight smile on her face. He wore a pair of dark sunglasses and seemed to be staring straight ahead over the color palette of tulips spread out in front of him. He seemed to be looking far beyond toward the thoughts of a future or a memory of a past. I couldn't tell. Every so often she'd raise her head off his shoulder but she never let go of her gentle clutch on his hand. I never saw them speak to each other yet the unspoken words could have filled an epic tale. They sat there content. They didn't seem bothered by the cold.
Celebrating Shichi-go-san, 2001
Hiroh Kikai, photographer
Represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery

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