The cherry blossom, Fukumi Matsubara will tell you, is a big deal in Japan.
The opening of the delicate flower heralds the arrival of spring in the island nation and spring, she says, "is a really important time in Japan to start things."
If you goWhat: Japanese Spring Festival
Who: Sponsored by members of the Japan Club and Japanese program at North Central College
When: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 3
Where: North Central's White Activities Center, 325 E. Benton Ave., Naperville
Info: (630) 637-5128
Which is one reason why members of the Japan Club and the Japanese program at Naperville's North Central College picked Tuesday, May 3, to celebrate their annual community festival.
Matsubara, a professor of Japanese at the school, says it's an ideal time for students and members of the community of all ages to come together to learn more about the culture of Japan.
And in the wake of the devastating earthquakes and tsunami that ravaged the country, it's also an opportunity to raise money for Red Cross relief efforts.
The annual Japanese Spring Festival runs 6 to 8:30 p.m. in the college's White Activities Center, 325 E. Benton Ave. The many activities and demonstrations are free, but there will be a small fee for those planning to sample the cuisine.
Matsubara says the celebration offers two main areas of interest. The first features performances of music and martial arts. The second focuses on hands-on, family friendly activities that range from traditional calligraphy, folding paper and children's activities to more contemporary video games.
A table staffed by students from Japan and elsewhere around the world will be set up to collect donations for earthquake relief.
Matsubara was born and raised in Japan and still has family living in Osaka -- thankfully far from the destruction. She came to the United States as a student and stayed to become a teacher.
She joined the North Central faculty in 1995 at a time when the school's Japanese program was still in its infancy.
Since then, though, interest in all things Japanese has jumped markedly, at least in part because of the burgeoning interest in video games, graphic novels and Anime.
She says North Central offers programs in six languages. Japanese, with roughly 64 students, now ranks second only to Spanish in popularity.
That, of course, makes Matsubara happy.
"I like to see the progress in students learning Japanese," she says. "After their first year here, students who couldn't speak a word of Japanese or write even one figure can communicate on a simple level."
By their senior year, she says, she tries to speak to them only in Japanese.
"When I see how much students improve, how much they learn, that is always exciting and rewarding for me," she says.
After being involved for the past seven years, Matsubara says she feels the same way about the festival.
"It allows our Japanese students, as well as those in the community, to experience things they don't experience outside of the festival," she says.
"It's a great promotion of Japanese culture."