‘Sakura Matsuri’ festival 2014 at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Flower power! Cherry blossom fest to feature samurai sword demo

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This guy is a cut above the rest.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is throwing its 33rd annual “Sakura Matsuri” cherry blossom festival on April 26 and 27. And the fest’s longtime master of ceremonies and resident sword expert said this year should be the best yet.

“It’s getting bigger and bigger every year,” said Yoshi Amao, who first started working the festival in 2003. “When I started it was very quiet.”

Amao teaches a performative version of samurai sword fighting called tate, which he and his partner Saori Goda will show off at the festival on both Saturday and Sunday. When he is not in the garden, Amao also runs an exercise class that utilizes the same techniques, and gives talks about bushido — the way of the samurai — to corporate clients.

“I do those with a PowerPoint instead of a sword,” he said.

Amao said he tries to inject his performance with humor as well as information. The story in his act explains the concept of bushido, which is similar to chivalry, but also involves the audience with interactive games. The sword slinger said striking a balance between tradition and entertainment is the key.

“If it’s only traditional, people will get bored,” he said. “But it’s not just fun fake stuff. It’s real and traditional.”

In recent years, “Sakura Matsuri” has also incorporated aspects of modern Japanese pop-culture into its festivities. This means a contingent of costume enthusiasts — known as “cosplayers” — will show off their elaborate outfits, while a manga artist will hold workshops and draw portraits.

The artist, Misako Rocks, grew up in Japan but now lives in Prospect Heights. She said this year’s festival is coming at the perfect time — just as the cherry blossoms are blooming.

“Usually the blossoms are a little before or a little after. But it’s just the right time this year,” she said.

Rocks said the audience that comes out the garden is more diverse than the crowd she usually draws for workshops and at comic book conventions. And she appreciates the combination of traditional Japanese culture with more modern elements.

Amao said this mixture is very apt for a festival celebrating all things Land of the Rising Sun.

“That’s Japan,” he said. “The old and the new.”

“Sakura Matsuri” at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden [990 Washington Ave. between President and Carroll streets in Prospect Heights, (718) 623–7200, www.bbg.org]. April 26–27 from 10 am–6 pm. $25 adults, $20 students and seniors.

Posted 12:00 am, April 24, 2014
Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
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