A Day Bub­bling With Beauty, An­cient Skill

Rain­bow of Kites Helps Crown The Cel­e­bra­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - The Region - By Michelle Boorstein

If you were on the Mall yes­ter­day for the open­ing of the Na­tional Cherry Blos­som Fes­ti­val, it looked like the whole world was a car­ni­val of kites, bub­bles and flow­er­ing trees ex­plod­ing in white.

But there was a par­al­lel fes­ti­val world up the street, one with a fe­ro­cious un­der­tone and a tick­ing clock.

Cel­e­brat­ing Ja­panese cul­ture in a very dif­fer­ent way, about 80 peo­ple sat at ta­bles in an el­e­gant pink ball­room at the Charles Sum­ner School, at 17th and M streets NW, and bat­tled silently at Go, an an­cient board game played with smooth, disk­like stones. One of only about 10 Go com­pe­ti­tions in the re­gion each year, the Cherry Blos­som Go Tour­na­ment in­cluded some of the na­tion’s top play­ers, who had the chance to bump up their rank for na­tional events. Moves by the top play­ers were broad­cast live on the In­ter­net to fans in the United States and Asia, where Go was born more than 4,000 years ago and re­mains wildly pop­u­lar.

Al­though most peo­ple think Go orig­i­nated in China, the Ja­panese be­came the pri­mary stew­ards of the game af­ter World War II. In Go, play­ers seize ter­ri­tory on the board with stones and seek to sur­round and block out op­po­nents. For the past nine years, the tour­na­ment has been part of the Cherry Blos­som Fes­ti­val, which cen­ters on cherry blos­som trees such as the 3,000 Ja­pan sent to Wash­ing­ton in 1910.

In a clas­sic ex­am­ple of to­day’s glob­al­ized cul­ture, Go seems to be get­ting a lit­tle lift in the United States from, of all things, a Ja­panese anime show kids here watch via the In­ter­net. The show is about a sixth-grader in­hab­ited by the spirit of an an­cient Go mas­ter.

Watch­ing “Hikaru no Go” on his com­puter is how 11-year-old Joey Phoon of Falls Church got in­ter­ested in play­ing the game. Yes­ter­day, he took down a young wo­man in the first round of the cham­pi­onship.

“I’m just try­ing to rest,” Joey said be­tween rounds in a side room, where some play­ers prac­ticed moves on the square, wooden board and oth­ers sifted through high-end stones made of jade and clamshell. Inside the main room, a small crowd sur­rounded ta­ble No. 1, where the top round was be­ing played by a teenage boy and a mid­dle-age man wear­ing an “I love Go” pin on his base­ball cap.

With play­ers ner­vously eye­ing clocks on their ta­bles, the tourna- ment had a to­tally dif­fer­ent vibe from the Mall area, where tens of thou­sands of peo­ple were roam­ing un­der blue skies be­tween a per­for­mance stage at the Tidal Basin and the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment, where the 41st an­nual Smith­so­nian Kite Fes­ti­val was un­der­way.

In a very Wash­ing­ton type of scene, the rain­bow of kites around the mon­u­ment shared the skies with the pe­ri­odic low-fly­ing mil­i­tary he­li­copter. Mean­while, traf­fic on nearby streets barely moved.

Many fes­ti­val-go­ers gath­ered around a feat of fun and en­gi­neer­ing: a large ma­chine with wheels and fans that churned out a stream of bub­bles, which floated off amid the kites. Near the ma­chine was a gag­gle of chil­dren on their par­ents’ shoul­ders, gig­gling as bub­bles popped all over their faces and cir­cus-type mu­sic played from a stereo.

“It’s what I call the ‘ Wall of Dads,’ ” said Felix Carta­gena of Ne­wark, Del., who has been op­er­at­ing his bub­ble ma­chines at kite fes­ti­vals for a quar­ter-cen­tury. He got into it to learn about the wind for his kites, he said.

“It’s so great that all th­ese peo­ple came and brought their own kites,” said Vaneska Adams, who came from Gam­brills with eight rel­a­tives and a Spi­der-Man kite. A Mary­land na­tive, Adams had never been to the Cherry Blos­som Fes­ti­val.

“It’s def­i­nitely worth it — even this,” she said, point­ing to the bub­ble residue in her hair.


As cherry blos­soms approach their peak, hordes of peo­ple crowd the grounds of the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment.

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