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US Cherry Blossom Festival Begins With Fundraiser for Japan Quake Victims

Marchers walked along the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC in support of Japan's victims

Hundreds of people have marched among cherry blossoms in Washington as part of a fundraising effort for the victims of Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Classical music played as hundreds of people and dozens of journalists gathered near the National Monument on a cold and windy evening with blooming cherry trees in the background.

Some of those in attendance lined up at American Red Cross donation boxes to give money for the organization’s earthquake and tsunami relief effort.

During a welcoming speech, Japan’s ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki said search and rescue missions are ongoing in Japan

He says the damaged nuclear Fukushima complex is a huge problem to contend with, and that officials are struggling to provide food, water and shelter for those displaced.

"This is a very tough fight. But the consolation is that people around the world are trying to be with us and especially Americans, a great friend of ours," Fujisaki said.

US Cherry Blossom Festival Begins With Fundraiser for Japan Quake Victims
US Cherry Blossom Festival Begins With Fundraiser for Japan Quake Victims
The event was a prelude to Saturday’s start of a two-week National Cherry Blossom festival which will be in its 99th year. The annual celebration marks the 1912 gift of more than 3,000 Japanese cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to Washington.

Festival chair Susan Norton said it was time to give back.

"We now have the opportunity to stand with Japan and say as we have taken such pleasure over the years, as we have loved visiting and seeing these blossoms with our loved ones, we now want to send every good thing that we can toward Japan because they are suffering right now as we cannot even imagine," she said.

After the speeches, people holding glow in the dark sticks walked around the nearby cherry blossom-lined Tidal Basin.

The two-week Cherry Blossom festival begins Saturday
The two-week Cherry Blossom festival begins Saturday
One of those taking part, second generation Japanese-American Risa Hirao, said she was very concerned about her relatives living in Japan.

"They are family, they are extended family and I am here to support them in whatever way I can. I feel helpless being out here, not being able to do much to help them emotionally, or provide them with simple things, like batteries or food or clean water so I think this is a way for me to help them out," Hirao states.

With tears in her eyes, she said she remembered of when she was on vacation and spent time with her family having lunch under the cherry blossoms in Japan.