Madame Michiya Hanayagi’s Japanese classical dance group participates in the Grand Parade every year.

SAN FRANCISCO — Northern California’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival continues with event-packed weekends — April 13-14 and 20-21 —  spotlighting traditional customs and culture that are part of the rich heritage of Japanese and Japanese Americans.

Now in its 46th year, the festival is one of California’s most prominent celebrations of Asian traditions. Each year, over 200,000 people attend this display showcasing the color and grace of the Japanese culture and the diversity of the Japanese American community. The event, held in San Francisco’s Japantown, is free and open to the public.

Highlights include:

• The Queen Program, in which five candidates will seek the title of 2013 Northern California Cherry Blossom Queen, on Saturday, April l3, at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St. Doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets: $25. Info: Tosh Mitsuda, (650) 871-9287.

• Special games, crafts and prizes featuring Hello Kitty and friends at the Sanrio Kids Corner along Post Street next to the Kinokuniya Building. Games include Hello Kitty Spin ‘n’ Win and Tuxedo Sam’s Bowtie Bounce; crafts feature character sand painting, mascot scooping and many others. Ticket books for all activities are available at the entrance of the Kids Corner for $10.

• Film screenings — “J, Robot,” a documentary about the development of robot technology in Japan, on Sunday, April 14, at 1 and 2:45 p.m. at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, 1840 Sutter St.; the premiere of “Infinity and Chashu Ramen,” a feature shot entirely in Japantown, on Saturday, April 20, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas; and “Streams of Light: Shin Buddhism in America” on April 20 at 5:15 p.m. at the Sundance Kabuki.

• Live entertainment, from music to martial arts, on the JCCCNC Stage, the Peace Plaza Stage and the Webster Street Stage, as well as at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.

• The U.S.-Japan Taiko Festival, hosted by San Francisco Taiko Dojo, on Saturday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the JCCCNC. The annual concert features taiko groups from around the U.S., special guests from Japan, and SFTD’s own Rising Stars Dream Team, which is made up of teenagers and young adults.

• Exhibitions and demonstrations, including bonsai, origami, calligraphy, tea ceremony, swords and Mataro dolls, at the JCCCNC, Tateuchi Auditorium, JACL Headquarters, Union Bank Hospitality Room, and National Japanese American Historical Society.

• The Grand Parade on Sunday, April 21, beginning at 1 p.m. at City Hall and ending at Post and Fillmore in Japantown. Marching units will include taiko drummers, buyo (classical dance) and minyo (folk dance) groups, Nikkei queens and courts from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Honolulu, and Taru Mikoshi, a portable shrine made of sake barrels and carried by dozens of enthusiastic volunteers. The grand marshal is renowned Japanese singer and actor Tetsuhiko Saigo.

• Food booths featuring delicious Japanese and Japanese American food, such as sushi, tempura, gyoza, takoyaki, chicken and beef teriyaki, udon, Spam musubi, and Kimochi Inc.’s famous teri-burgers.

• A raffle for a chance to win the grand prize of a Toyota Corolla, courtesy of San Francisco Toyota, and various other prizes. Tickets are $2 each or $10 for a book of six, and can be purchased at Pika Pika, 1581 Webster St., Suite 225; Forest Books, 1748 Buchanan Street Plaza; Union Bank, 1675 Post St.; and other participating merchants. The drawing will be held on April 21 in Peace Plaza after the parade.

For more information, visit

San Francisco Taiko Dojo, led by Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka, puts on a U.S.-Japan taiko concert during the festival.

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