The largest cluster of Chicago cherry trees is on the cusp of full bloom, with peak viewing expected to begin in a few days.
Thousands of people came to see the 160 trees surrounding the Columbia Basin lagoon, just south of the Museum of Science and Industry, according to Michael Dimitroff, director of arts initiatives for the Chicago Park District.
Dimitroff said 5,000 people saw the pink and white blossoms last weekend alone, with some laying blankets in the spirit of hanami, the Japanese tradition of savoring the cherry blossom season with quiet viewings, picnics picnics and festivals.
“It was the picture of harmony,” Dimitroff said. “It was like ‘Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’ – the Seurat painting but the Japanese hanami version.”
America’s romance with cherry blossoms was imported from Japan, where the blossoms are celebrated as symbols of spring and the fleeting nature of beauty.
“There’s something beautiful about every step of the process: watching the buds, watching them fully open, when the little heart-shaped petals fall to the ground, the fragrance in the air,” said Karen Szyjka, Park District Operations Support Manager.
“You can go there even when it rains; (you can go there) in the morning or in the evening. There is something to enjoy in every moment,” she said.
The Park District is releasing updates on the progress of the flowers and will be hosting a free Hanami Sakura celebration on Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. in Jackson Park, in partnership with the Japanese Arts Foundation, Japanese Culture Center, Consulate General of Japan in Chicago and the Jackson Park Advisory Board. The event will feature traditional drumming and dancing, origami and haiku
America’s iconic cherry blossom exhibit originated in 1912, when Japan gave 3,000 cherry trees to Washington, DC, to be planted along the Potomac River. These trees would be joined by others, and today the Washington Cherry Blossom Festival is a widely recognized tourist attraction and rite of spring.
Chicago, with its notoriously punitive climate, was a less obvious candidate for mass planting. But starting in 2013, the Project 120 association and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Chicago took up the challenge.
They planted trees in Jackson Park to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the 1893 World’s Fair and the 50th anniversary of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Chicago, according to the Japanese Consulate General in Chicago and the Park District.
There have been years when wayward saplings barely bloomed or the wind blew the flowers away in days, but 2021 has brought a viewing season in its own right.
If the weather holds, this year’s blooms could last another week or two, but again a storm could knock them down in two days, Dimitroff said.
“It all depends on the weather,” he said, and that fits hanami. “The idea is that this is a fleeting moment in your life, so get out there and celebrate.”