Playing Blossom: Meeting the Princesses
And so last night to the residence of the Japanese ambassador, Ichiro Fujisaki, for a Cherry Blossom Festival party. I have to admit I've never been much involved with things festivular in Washington. I don't think I'm alone in that. How many natives trek to the blossoms every year? How many line up for the parade? Do you?
But, hey, a free dinner's a free dinner and I'd never been to the Japanese ambassador's residence. I've been to similar events at the French and Swiss embassies and the protocol is much the same: They don't lift the lids off the chafing dishes until the ambassador has spoken. Fair enough. While I waited, I spoke to some of the Cherry Blossom Princesses.
There's one for each state, plus the District, plus the U.S. territories. (Guam was there! And Puerto Rico!) Many of them already live in the Washington area (Guam and Puerto Rico, for example. College students.) They're chosen by their respective state societies, with help from their Congressional delegation. They must be between the ages of 18 and 24 and, I was told, have "no visible tattoos." Here's the District's Cherry Blossom Princess, Alexis Johnson:
The way they choose the Cherry Blossom Queen is interesting: The princesses are all put into a steel cage armed only with sharpened chop sticks. No, actually, they spin a wheel. If it lands on your name, you're queen and you get a little crown and a free two-week trip to Japan. As outgoing queen Emily Little told me, "I don't have any talent, I'm just lucky."
I'm sure she was being modest. Queen Emily is finishing her nursing degree at the University of Maine. She teared up when she described the two weeks she spent in the Land of the Rising Sun, traveling with her "second mother" and meeting the Japanese people. The Japanese in the crowd were delighted. We all want our countries to be loved.
Here's Emily with me and Erisa Kazui, who is the Japanese Cherry Blossom Queen. I imagine that's a pretty big deal. They take their cherry blossoms seriously over there.
How come we don't include a fork with goodie bags for the people who visit the U.S. embassy in Tokyo? Or maybe we do. (I'm going to go out on a limb here and state that more people on the planet don't eat their food with a fork than do.)
By the way, if you want to escape the cherry blossom crowds while still soaking up a bit of Nipponia, visit the Japan Information and Culture Center, over on 21st Street NW. They currently have a display of netsuke, the fasteners the Japanese would use to hold a little purse on their belts. (No pockets in a kimono, you see.)
Netsuke are highly decorative and come in all sorts of designs: intricate gold and lacquer work, detailed carving. There's one netsuke in the shape of a basket that supposedly took the artisan more than a year to carve. Can you imagine showing up at work every day to whittle down a kimono purse fastener about the size of a walnut?
Well, not really. But we can talk about the blossoms during my online chat, today at noon. I also thought college admission letters and D.C.'s segregated restaurant scene would be good topics for discussion. Post a comment now or join me at noon.
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