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Davis, California

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Davis celebrates ninth annual Cherry Blossom Festival

The festival gathers the flavors, music and culture of the city’s diverse community


By MATTHEW MCELDOWNEY — city@theaggie.org


Returning to Sudwerk Brewing Company for The Davis Cherry Blossom Festival, an impressive turnout of artists, musicians and families came out to appreciate the culture of Davis’ diverse Asian American community. From April 13 to 14, students and alumni worked together in this non-profit to provide a platform for cultural appreciation and community.

Taiko groups from all over California came together to share their passion for this Japanese drumming art. The festival’s art and food vendors were able to infuse the event with the diverse flavors and artistic traditions of all things uniquely Davis and Asian American. With the help of its volunteers, the non-profit was able to raise money for causes such as Asian Resources Inc. and the International Rescue Committee, all while ensuring that this festival is free to enter for all.

Lisa Shigenaga, a member of the Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan — the UC Davis student group for Taiko playing — and a member of the Board of Directors for the Davis Cherry Blossom Festival, expressed how important it is for her to play together alongside those who share in this identity and passion for Taiko.

“Asian American identity and social justice work is intertwined with why we play,” Shigenaga said. “Because, while Taiko is sometimes seen as this ancient Japanese art form, in reality, what we’re playing has really developed a lot in North America by Asian Americans who have come together to celebrate this part of their heritage.”

This mission of empowerment prevalent in Taiko has its historic roots in the Asian American community during the Civil Rights Movement, according to Shigenaga. Taiko itself was initially imported by its North American founder, Seiichi Tanaka, to be incorporated into the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival. Shigenaga shared that, ultimately, the desire to carry on this facet of Japanese heritage has evolved to empower the marginalized voices within the Asian American community.

The Davis Cherry Blossom Festival has undergone major transformations since its inception in 2016. From its humbler origins as an ensemble organized by Bakuhatsu Taiko, the Davis Cherry Blossom Festival has been able to pull in Taiko groups from all over California. With continued support, the Davis Cherry Blossom Festival was able to host an Artists’ Alley, activities such as lantern painting and its variety of food vendors, as well as local bands and speakers within the community. 

“It’s been quite a lot of work this year,” Shigenaga said. “It felt like a full-time job for me, but it’s so rewarding.” 

Gloria Kum, a former member of Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan and the official designer of the Davis Cherry Blossom Festival mascot, has been around the festival since its founding and gave insight into the behind-the-scenes of how it feels to play for the Taiko group.

“The energy that you feel from the people surrounding you is so contagious,” Kum said. “It gives you so much energy, and it feels really empowering.” 

Since moving away from volunteering and performing for the festival, she chooses to support the festival in her own way through the art and designs she makes for them. Her experiences and the connections Kum has made through the Davis Cherry Blossom festival have expanded her horizons.

“There were many opportunities where I got to design annual t-shirts for the Bakuhatsu group and other big events such as conferences,” Kum said. “So through that, other Taiko groups and people here and there ask me to design things for them. It opened up so many doors from there, and just by doing art, the soft skills I learned are carried with me to this day in my career.”

Kum is optimistic about what the future has in store. Looking to start a small business with the art she creates, Kum expresses pride and fondness for the time she has been a part of the Davis Cherry Blossom Festival. A sentiment, which she shares, could only bring even greater possibilities.

“It makes me really happy to see how much this event has grown such a strong community,” Kum said. “[…] I can’t wait to see what happens next when they celebrate their 10th anniversary.” 


Written by: Matthew Mceldowney — city@theaggie.org



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