Washington's annual cherry blossom festival begins with flowers at peak bloom

The opening ceremony of the US capital's annual National Cherry Blossom Festival was held on Saturday, with the iconic flowers in full bloom.

Crowds are flocking to view the cherry trees donated by Japan more than 100 years ago. Tokyo's mayor gave Washington about 3,800 cherry trees in 1912.

The flowers reached their peak more than a week earlier than usual. Many visitors were seen taking photos and having picnics under the blossoms.

A woman from the southern state of Florida says she drove for 15 hours to see the flowers. She said the sight was spectacular and better than she expected, and she took a lot of photos.

Yamada Shigeo, Japan's Ambassador to the United States, delivered a speech at the opening ceremony. He noted that Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio will make an official visit to Washington during the festival on April 10 at the invitation of US President Joe Biden.

Yamada said there was no better occasion to celebrate the longstanding friendship between the two countries and further bolster the bonds between the two peoples.

Japanese singer Moriyama Naotaro sang his hit song, "Sakura," which means "cherry blossoms."

The festival runs through April 14, and is scheduled to include events showcasing Japanese culture.