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Cherry Blossom finds sweet new spot

Japanese culture festival moves from downtown to PFW Student Union

Fort Wayne Taiko will again take part the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Joshua Schipper

Joshua Schipper

Whatzup Features Writer

Published May 10, 2023

Eleven thousand people planning to experience Japanese culture in the window of just six hours will have a new place to celebrate this month.

The Cherry Blossom Festival returns for its 15th year on Sunday, May 21, moving from the downtown Allen County Public Library to Walb Student Union at Purdue University Fort Wayne. 

Dorothy Kittaka, an organizer for the event, said that while the Allen County Public Library was a “wonderful venue” the last several years, the festival just got “too big” for the area. From the laundry list of performers, activities, contests, and more that will be featured, it’s easy to see why. 

Getting into groove

Kittaka said organizers are thrilled to have numerous performers, drawing particular attention to New York-based Duo Yuemno, a music group that aims to combine and dialogue between traditional Japanese music and Western classical music. Another performance of note will be local group Spirit Bomb, a musical duo focused on popular Japanese anime songs with authentic Japanese vocals.

In addition to these, the festival will feature musical performances from classical guitarist Dr. Daniel Quinn, Fort Wayne Taiko, Fort Wayne Suzuki Strings, and the trio of Fort Wayne Philharmonic players Akria Murotani, Deborah Nitka Hicks, and Alexandra Tsilibes.

There will also be magic story artist Yasu Ishida, who combines traditional Japanese theater, music, origami, magic, and storytelling

Let the competition begin

Kittaka stressed the multigenerational aspect of the festival, saying it offers events for those of all ages. 

Festivalgoers will have the opportunity to participate in a few contests, including anime drawing where people can draw a favorite character or original art. Those with the best original art will receive awards in several age categories. 

“The one that wins is going to have their picture on our posters next year,” Kittaka said. 

Another contest, focused on cosplay, will test the quality, presentation, and style skills of entrants. 

Younger festivalgoers, students from elementary school through college, can try their hand at writing haikus, with the best receiving a monetary award.

In addition to these competitions, numerous demonstrations and games will enlighten on Japanese culture. Curious minds can try their hand at origami and karaoke and can also learn how to make traditional Japanese floral arrangements known as ikebana.

Plenty of flavor

No cultural festival would be complete without the food. 

The Taste of Japan section will serve Japanese food, ranging from ramen to sushi to shaved ice. 

The Asian Market allows for festivalgoers to take a piece of the festival, and thus Japanese culture, into their homes. Vendors will offer traditional Japanese kimonos, manga, trading cards, games and much more. The featured vendor for 2023, Ohio Kimono, offers products imported from Kyoto, Japan. The vendor also offers kimono accessories, including kanzashi, Uchiwa paddle fans, obi, and haori.

Root of festival

At the center of the festival, of course, is its namesake. 

In an ongoing Make the Cherry Tree Bloom communal art project, people will learn to make origami cherry blossoms to add to a wall, forming a unique “tree.” 

“Here in Fort Wayne, we had cherry blossom trees given to us by our sister city (Takaoka, Japan) long ago, and most of them died because it was the wrong kind to have in this climate,” Kittaka said. “Recently, we were able to get some from the consul general from the Chicago area from Japan. So we do have one growing at the library in the area out in the plaza and we have some that are going in Swinney Park. If you go there by the Japanese pavilion, you’ll see some beautiful cherry trees.”

Kittaka cites growing attention to Fort Wayne’s sister cities, particularly Takaoka, as a leading reason for the growing festival. 

“I think people are looking for ways to get to know people and their backgrounds,” she said. “I’m just so pleased that our community is so excited about coming to something like this. They keep coming.”

Born in the U.S. with Japanese ancestry, Kittaka spent time in an internment camp during World War II. 

“I was raised in a very small town after the war and came to Chicago and then came here,” she said. “Fort Wayne has given me so many opportunities, and I’m so glad we moved here.”

For more information on the festival, go to


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