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After a successful inaugural event last year, the Hot Springs National Park Sister City Foundation will host the second annual Cherry Blossom Festival on Saturday.

The family friendly event, which will benefit the Sister City Student Scholarship Fund, will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday in the second-floor community room at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 228 Spring St.

The scholarship fund will help support the next student delegation visit to Hanamaki, Japan in June.

For the last 26 years, Hot Springs and Hanamaki have been sister cities. For the last 10 years, the foundation has sent a group of local students to Hanamaki to interact with the locals there and serve as ambassadors for America. This year, nine local students will get to go to Hanamaki with funds raised by the festival.

In Japan, festivals are held when cherry trees blossom. Sister City Program Executive Director Mary Zunick said that when the trees blossom, everything stops, and families meet under the trees at a festival. Wanting to help send students to Japan, the foundation decided to hold their own Cherry Blossom Festival.

The event will feature Japanese food prepared by culinary students from Arkansas Career Training Institute, a silent auction and multiple demonstrations.

Among the demonstrations will be Kae Reed, who will be playing the taiko drum. Reed has performed with the Samurai Sword Fighting Group at the Sakura Matsuri festival in Brooklyn, as well as Washington, D.C., Cherry Blossom Festivals, a news release said.

Ben Bell, who spent two years in Japan learning how to brew sake, will host a "Sake Experience" class at the festival that will show how to make sake. There will also be sake tastings for those of legal drinking age.

The Bon Odori dancers from Hot Springs Village will also perform at the event.

The first festival raised around $12,000 and about 125 people attended the event. Zunick said this year they hope for similar numbers, but next year they hope to grow and expand to a larger venue.

It costs around $2,500 per student to go to Hanamaki and the city of Hot Springs does not provide money for the travelers. Zunick said they didn't want financial issues to prevent students from being able to participate, so events like the festival are held to help them.

Zunick said the student exchange program is a good one for both countries. The students will spend one week in Hanamaki, where they will each live with a host family. In some cases, the student won't know any Japanese and the family won't know any English.

At first, this can be overwhelming, Zunick said, but by the end of the week the student and their hosts will become a family. They will find ways to communicate with each other and discover both cultures have many things in common.

Zunick said these students are "the best of the best" and will not only be learning Japanese culture, but also sharing American culture with the people of Hanamaki.

The students have also helped raise money for the trip, she said, noting they helped find silent auction items for the festival.

Tickets are $35 for adults, $15 for students 11-18, and free for children younger than 10.

Local on 02/11/2019

Print Headline: Second annual Cherry Blossom Festival set for Saturday

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