In its third iteration, the Downtown Akron Sakura Festival—referred to in years past, more modestly, as a celebration—was successful beyond all hope and expectation. Amid boarded windows, blockades ready to be moved into roadways, and palpable tension in the community, people still came downtown from far and wide to take a breath, spend time with loved ones, and experience the beauty of the cherry blossom trees that were just past peak bloom.
Last year, at the 2022 celebration, we estimated there were roughly 1,000 people in attendance. This year, anticipating humble growth, we planned for 1,500. In reality, we saw closer to 6,000. Such a volume of visitors, combined with the 2,000 luminarias lining the Towpath Trail on a larger footprint than ever before, made for an event that was spectacular by every count.
Even before the festival began at 4 pm, people of all ages and backgrounds could be found enjoying public space downtown, already beginning to move along the Towpath in anticipation of the activities and entertainment to come. There were families with strollers, friends picnicking in the grass and tossing frisbees, kids doing cartwheels, elderly couples holding hands while walking, local petitioners collecting signatures—people on foot, bike, and scooter, using public space in all the diverse ways it is meant to be used.
People lingered near the hubs of activation planned for the evening: The Towpath Trailhead at Spaghetti Warehouse and Locks 2 and 3, and even Williams Tower in Ohio & Erie Canal Park and the Mustill Store at the intersection of North and Howard Streets. Some even enjoyed a cherry blossom bike ride ahead of the event, guided by Dirty River Bicycle Works.
Once the doors figuratively opened for this outdoor celebration, visitors eagerly flooded vendor tents, craft tables, and chairs in the audience of professional koto, shinobue, and shakuhachi players, who included Miki Saito, Lydia Snyder, and Mike Hovancsek. They also flocked to do ikebana, create their own origami cranes, write wishes on pink ribbons tied to tree branches, and taste from a curated selection of sake and sushi from Cilantro Thai & Sushi. As the sushi at Lock 3 sold out earlier in the evening than expected, visitors availed themselves of Boiling House’s Sakura sushi special and sampled cherry blossom ice cream from Chill, created especially for the festival.
Every hub of activity was delightfully packed for the duration of the event, which was heartwarming to say the least. It also supported the assertion we make every day, which is that downtown Akron is vibrant and valuable to our city and region; a place to come together and experience joy in community; and a place to exist in good company, experience culture, and perhaps even learn something new.
The overwhelming enthusiasm for this year’s Sakura Festival already has DAP and our partners inspired to plan next year’s.
Between 2011 and 2012, the City of Akron, with support from JANO, planted more than 400 cherry trees along the Towpath Trail. Every spring, for a handful of days, the trees emerge with beautiful blooms, heralding the coming of spring to downtown.