Cherry Blossom Festival opens at Central City Park

Hundreds of people showed up for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Central City Park early this afternoon, kicking off the 27th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival.Gov. Sonny Perdue and Ichiro Fujisaki, Japan’s ambassador to the United States, were among the guests of honor and helped cut the the large pink ribbon to symbolize the festival’s opening.

“Hi y’all!” Fujisaki told the crowd. “Am I saying that right?”

Fujisaki drew a lot of laughs from those in attendance as he joked about how festival founder Carolyn Crayton did her best to convince him to attend this year’s festival when she traveled to Washington, D.C. last December.

“Boy, was she persuasive!” Fujisaki said with a laugh. “Now I know how Mr. (William) Fickling was persuaded to give up those 500 (cherry blossom) saplings.”Both Fujisaki and Perdue emphasized the strong relationship between Japan and the state. Japan is the top foreign investor in Georgia, with 383 companies statewide providing more than 35,000 jobs.

“Japan is the largest foreign investor in Georgia,” Perdue said. “It’s a truly important relationship, one that we need to cherish.”

Several of the speakers referenced the nation’s troubled economy, but Perdue likened the recession to a cherry blossom ready to bloom.

“I believe spring is coming and the economy will once again blossom,” he said.

Brian Everett of Macon said he doesn’t often attend the festival, but was glad he attended the opening ceremony.

“It was kind of cool,” he said. “There’s a lot of community support out here. It was really interesting to hear the Japanese ambassador talk. He did a really good job.”

Festival chairman Steve Jukes noted that with the skies sunny and clear — unlike last year’s rain-soaked event — and the blossoms set to bloom, the festival should return to top form.

“I’m convinced this will be the best festival we’ve ever had,” he said.