With the continued cool temperatures pushing back the peak of cherry blossoms in Washington to early April, the opening ceremony of the National Cherry Blossom Festival was held Sunday with the attendance of Japan's new ambassador, Shinsuke Sugiyama.
"As the ambassador appointed by my government, I very much would like to send my best regards to you all here, the people in D.C.," Sugiyama, a former vice foreign minister, said in an address at a Washington theater, with his wife Yoko standing beside him.
U.S. first lady Melania Trump, who serves as honorary chairwoman of the festival, said in a statement that cherry blossoms in the capital "serve as a reminder of the new spring season, and of the long and treasured friendship between the United States of America and Japan."
The annual festival commemorates the 1912 gift of about 3,000 nursery cherry trees by Tokyo to Washington to enhance bilateral friendship. Cherry blooms along the Potomac River captivate visitors every spring.
At the ceremony, Fukuoka Prefecture high school students performed calligraphy on erected screens of paper, while Japanese musicians Akiko Yano and Takanori Nishikawa, whose stage name is T.M. Revolution, gave performances.
A series of Japan-related events such as Japanese art exhibitions, kite flying, fireworks and a downtown parade are scheduled for the festival, which is to run through April 15.
The peak for cherry blossoms is forecast for April 8-12, according to the National Park Service.