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Salem blossoms with spring celebration

Michinobu Iimori performs the shamisen

A steady pulse. Bang Bang Bang. The Japanese taiko drums rang out on the steps of the state capital. Like an alarm to stir the world from its winter slumber, the drums shook the early morning. The annual Cherry Blossom Day was here again. Countless Salemites once again gather to celebrate the yearly rebirth of the trees that gave the Cherry City her name. Under the watchful gaze of The Oregon Pioneer statue, the Capital Park was filled with the sounds of laughter and music.

A bird’s eye view of the cherry blossom fest

After the explosive taiko introduction, Salemites gathered in the white pavilion and explored the inside of the ornate capital. Beautiful hints of spring were on display in the colorful kimonos of the kimono contest, countless goods celebrating Japanese culture were being sold by enthusiastic vendors, and a person in a cherry costume walked about greeting children. Despite celebrating cherry blossoms, none of the numerous cherry trees at the Capital Park were in bloom; a reminder of how recent winter was.     

Tiny traditional Japanese toys on display in the capital

Mr. Michinobu Iimori, a musician and instructor at Chemeketa, serenaded the patrons with a combination of oboe, alto saxophone, recorder, and the traditional Japanese shamisen. The shamisen, sometimes called the Japanese guitar, has a plucky sharp sound to it and is held like a guitar. Iimori played relaxing melodies over a backing track emanating from a pocket sized speaker. “Believe it or not, I’ve been playing it for about fifteen years and I’m totally self taught.” Iimori said.

Across the pavilion, arpeggios flowed like waterfalls from the traditional koto played by Ms. Masumi Timson. The koto resembles a table with stiff string held aloft by white movable frets. “Even in Japan where it’s a traditional instrument, most people aren’t aware of it” Timson said. She and Iimori, who know each other, started improvising with each other from across the venue. They exchanged melodies and ended together.

The Cherry Blossom day was primarily about Japanese culture but a surprise look into Ugandan culture took place as well. A group of young Ugandans danced to the beat of African drums and a wooden xylophone in the capitol building. Each drum strike resounded with a thunderous echo in the chamber. The music was jovial, and young children danced to the infectious beat with random members in the audience hollering in their native tongues all the while.

The festival was over by 3 p.m., but the uplifting mood it brought lasted much longer after that. Spring is here and with it are the promises of sunshine, good moods, and of course, cherry blossoms.

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