VIDEO: San Francisco celebrates the 44th Cherry Blossom Parade in Japantown


Amid the sounds of heavy Taiko drumming, shamisens and cheering crowds, the call for aid in Japan could still be heard and, more importantly, answered.

In the wake of the tsunami that devastated Japan, participants and attendees alike celebrated Japanese culture and tradition at San Francisco’s 44th-annual Cherry Blossom Parade in Japantown as one of many ways of supporting those in need.

“My feelings are a little bit of a mixed bag, since people donated more for Haiti than Japan, they have the impression that Japan can take of itself, etc.,” said Kendall Shelffo, a Sonoma State University student and member of Hands for Japan. “People are still suffering over there right now. Some people have forgotten, but the festival is still here and you know Japan is still alive and well on the other hand, the culture and people here that is.”

The Sonoma State University-based organization was one of several groups hoping to raise money at the festival and was a reminder that in light of the disaster, attendees could still give aid in addition to celebrating.

“This is a very good association for us,” said Yoshimi Nimura, a Hands for Japan member. “We have already passed one month, but its kind of a reminder. After one month, two months, little by little, we might forget, so that’s why it’s good for us to be here.”

The group made a goal to raise $10,000 through the sale of wristbands.

Many patrons donated cash, but other attendees showed support in other ways, like musician Tom Yamashita who brought a message flag, a banner on which individuals could write messages of solidarity.

“There are no borders for taking care of the people, so even this can give the soul peace,” Yamashita said.

The message flag was especially important to Yamashita as he felt many of the signees wrote strong messages of support.

“I feel like I’d almost cry,” Yamashita said. “Some people would take 20 or 30 minutes drawing these beautiful pictures and some people would just write ‘be strong,’ it’s so beautiful. There’s over 15 international languages, 4,000 messages, with more and more coming, and by the time I get to Japan it will probably be six or seven thousand.”

Festival attendees had many opportunities to demonstrate support, as vendors — selling everything from Okonomiyaki, a Japanese-style pancake, to beer — pledged to give a portion, if not all, of their profits to those in Japan.

“It’s kind of good to see that, that people are coming out here and thinking about not just having fun, but helping,” said Jamie Wilson, a 23-year-old graduate from Waseda University.

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VIDEO: San Francisco celebrates the 44th Cherry Blossom Parade in Japantown