At Harlem’s Sakura Cherry Blossom Festival, “East Meets West” in Friendship

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Former First Lady of Japan Kayoko Hosokawa (left), wife of Morihiro Hosokawa, 79th Prime Minister of Japan from August 1993 to April 1994, is Honorary Chairperson, NPO Special Olympics Nippon, and Chairperson, Japan Floor Hockey Federation. She is seen here with her interpreter at the Marcus Garvey Park (Madison at East 122nd St.) for a Little League baseball game – one of the many events that took place during the April 14-15 Cherry Blossom Festival weekend in Harlem. The Festival celebrated the 100th anniversary of a 1912 ceremony when The Committee of Japanese Residents gifted 2,000 cherry trees to New York City as a symbol of friendship. The trees were planted in what was then called Claremont Park at West 122nd Street and Riverside Drive, and the park was renamed Sakura, the Japanese word for cherry blossom.  ¸”X Ò”I think sports has the power to let everyone’s soul shine,” the former First Lady once said. “And so do gifts of trees,” commented Voza Rivers, who produced the Festival for the Consulate General of Japan in New York and the New Heritage Theatre. The Nippon Club and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry co-sponsored the event. Photo Credit: Seitu Oronde
Two decades ago in Harlem, a kid had a hard time finding a place to play ball. Empty, garbage-strewn lots doubled as playgrounds. Fields were scarce, organized teams scarcer. That all changed in 1989, when Iris and Dwight Raiford started Harlem Little League. Now, over 20 years later, the league has more than 600 boys and girls ages 5 to 18 playing on 42 teams, including two teams for disabled children.

On Sunday April 15, 2012, the Harlem Little League played the the West Coast Japanese Little League on the Friendship Field at Marcus Garvey Park, Madison Ave. E. 120th Street to 124th Street. Family, community residents, and special guests participated in the Opening Ceremony which included special messages from Dwight RaifordCo-Founder of the Harlem Little League, Assemblyman Keith Wright, Lloyd Williams, President & CEO The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, the former First Lady of Japan Mrs. Hosakawa, Yasuhisa Kawamura, Deputy Chief of Mission, the Consulate General of Japan in NY, Voza Rivers, Executive Producer, and Katsuya Abe, International Producer New Heritage Theatre Group.

The game, which was won by the West Coast Japanese team (8-3), was enthusiastically watched by a cheering crowd of parents and sports enthusiasts. The Little League game was presented by Harlem Little League Commission, International Baseball Education Committee (IBEC USA), New Heritage Theatre Group, and The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce.

The mission and purpose of the International Baseball Education Committee in USA (IBEC USA) is to foster friendships among youth of various ethnic groups through baseball and their global cultural exchange program. IBEC USA believes this program will educate the youth of the world to become better citizens, learning a sense of love, community, respect and appreciation through the sport of baseball.
New Heritage Theatre Group is the oldest not for profit black theatre in New York, celebrating their 48th Anniversary.