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WATCH | Arkansas Cherry Blossom Festival will return for sixth year

by Courtney Edwards | February 5, 2023 at 4:04 a.m.
Michelle Gates Roberts holds us a wedding kimono while she discusses the upcoming 6th Annual Arkansas Cherry Blossom festival on April 2. – Photo by Courtney Edwards of The Sentinel-Record

The Arkansas Cherry Blossom Festival will return to the Hot Springs Convention Center on April 2, celebrating Japanese culture and Hot Springs' friendship with its sister city Hanamaki, Japan.

Hosted by the Hot Springs National Park Sister City Foundation, the 6th Annual Arkansas Cherry Blossom Festival will be held from 12:30-5 p.m. at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena, offering cultural demonstrations, exhibits, musical performances and traditional Japanese carnival games throughout the day.

Originally called the Hot Springs Cherry Blossom Festival, the event changed its name to Arkansas Cherry Blossom Festival after it attracted attendees from across the state.

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"I joined the board of the foundation in 2019, and 2020 was the last year we were able to hold the (Arkansas) Cherry Blossom Festival as we had been doing it," said Michelle Gates Roberts, the chair for the festival.

"And that was early March, so, you know, the world kind of shut down after that.

"So, I became chair for the 2021 festival. We had to completely re-imagine it because before, it was (an) intimate, gala-type event, and with COVID restrictions and having to get the plans approved by the health board, we really had to be creative and wanted to open it up to the larger community, not just a few people," Roberts said.

In 2020, prior to the pandemic, the event hosted about 150 people, she said. In 2021, after opening the event to more people and including social distancing, there were about 700 attendees. In 2022, there were more than 1,000 attendees. This year, the festival is expecting about 1,500.

"We saw that people really were curious and interested in Japan, Japanese culture, our Sister City Program, so we knew we couldn't go back to a small program," Roberts said.

The program will also offer workshops for those wanting a more hands-on experience, as well as a haiku contest and animé cosplay contest. While admission is free, the funds raised from the Arkansas Cherry Blossom Festival go toward students' exchange trips to Hanamaki.

Hot Springs' sake brewery Origami Sake will lead an exhibit called the "Sake Experience. Isbell Farms, which provides Origami Sake with sake rice, will also be in attendance, along with Aitoh Specialty Paper, the nation's largest importer of Japanese paper products," according to a news release from the Sister City Program.

"We should be celebrating the friendship that we have (with Hanamaki)," Roberts said. "Also, you know, many people in Hot Springs know of the Sister City Program, but they don't know how to become involved, and so this is a way to introduce people to what we do and to see and smell and hear things that you would have to travel half a world away (for)."

Print Headline: WATCH | Arkansas Cherry Blossom Festival will return for sixth year


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