Millions of twinkling lights create Okinawa holiday mood
By Bill Charles
T’was the week before Christmas and all across the island, the creatures are stirring as they explore Okinawa’s festive illuminations at resorts, hotels, clubs, businesses and residences.
It’s that very special time of year when millions of white lights, blue lights and multi-color light displays create a special warm feeling in just about everyone (except those with a ‘bah humbug!’ attitude). From northern Okinawa to the far south, cities and businesses are showcasing their holiday extravaganza events. There’s something for everyone, and countless opportunities for shutterbugs to capture memorable photographs.
In Itoman, the location where the year end illumination tradition on Okinawa originally started, there are actually two programs now, the Itoman Peaceful Illumination Festival at Itoman Tourist Farm, and the Peace Illumination, which runs through January 3rd from 6:30 p.m. -10 p.m. at Okinawa Peace Memorial Park, Mabuni. Admission to the latter is free.
The 16th Itoman Peaceful Illumination Festival at the Tourist Farm is dedicated to prayers for peace where more than 1.3 million miniature lights have been lit. Organizers call the festival an event “sending to the world Okinawa’s prayers for peace.” The event takes place through January 3rd at the Itoman Tourist Farm, 1018 Mabuni, Itoman City, from 6 p.m. ~ 10 p.m. nightly. Admission is ¥250.
Prayers take place each evening at 8 p.m. as the festival conducts a ‘starlight wink’ where all illumination is turned off, then back on again. Laser shows are slated for the 24th and 25th starting at 8:30 p.m. No Christmas would be complete without fireworks, which are slated for 9 p.m. Christmas night. From the 23rd through New Year’s Eve, live music, dance and comedy shows, as well as a flamenco show, are on stage. More than 120,000 visitors are expected during the illumination run. A New Year’s countdown will be broadcast live on Okinawa television.
Even as the Itoman Peaceful Illumination is set to begin, plans are being finalized for the Mabuni Fire & Bell Observance New Year’s Eve into New Year’s Day. The ceremonial festival takes place at Okinawa Peace Memorial Hall, which also stands in Mabuni, with prayers being offered to the 230,000 who died during the Battle of Okinawa. Just before the new year arrives, moments before the stroke of midnight, the flame of prayer will descend from the 45-meter-high bell tower to light participants’ torches as they welcome in the new year.
Ocean Expo Park, located west of Nago City in Motobu, is holding Winter Fantasy 2014 that features fantastic illuminations and many events like a special program at the planetarium called ‘Starry Tales’, Christmas night stage and gel candle making. The Winter Fantasy runs through Dec. 28thfrom 6 p.m. ~ 9 p.m. around Fountain Plaza. Visitors should note that some Ocean Expo Park venues close early during the illumination period. Ocean Culture Museum, including Planetarium Hall, closes at 8 p.m. with last entry at 7:30 p.m. Central and North Gates close at 9 p.m., while Okinawa Churaumi
Aquarium operates on its normal schedule.
The Planetarium special program ‘Starry Tales’, a Greek mythology ‘Astraea’ story, will be played with introduction of stars (in Japanese only). The dome will be filled with a fantastic footage through the 28th. Screen times are 5:15 p.m., 6 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The fun takes place at Ocean Culture Museum Planetarium Hall. Admission is ¥170 for adults and ¥50 for kids. There’s a limit of 186 seats per performance.
The Christmas Night Stage at Ocean Expo Park Fountain Plaza is free, and features local artists on stage. The plaza is decorated with illumination, and Yuichi Atta will be Master of Ceremonies Dec. 20th and 21st from 6:30 p.m. ~ 8 p.m. Saturday’s artists are Motoshi Uesato, asano, and Akira Ikuma, while Sunday features Miwa Uehara, Sala-saji and Glean Piece.
A fun activity at the park is gel candle making using star-shaped sand and Ryukyu glass. The event takes place Saturday and Sunday at Okinawa Culture Museum 10 a.m. ~ 5 p.m., with last admission at 4 p.m. There’s a ¥200 workshop fee, and a limit of 250 participants a day is set.
Moving south, there’s a way to see free illumination and shopping together. The Illumination at Outlet Mall Ashibinaa has already started and it is free! In addition to the lights, there are snow fall times by snow machine. Winter Elegance Illumination runs through February 15th from 5 p.m. ~ 8:30 p.m. Admission is free, with snow falling at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Other than the illumination, a free music concert will be held every day from December 12th to 25th. Enjoy soprano singers’ performance. On 18th and 23rd, high school singer ‘Natchy’ will perform. The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force 15th Brigade Band and some local artists are scheduled to perform.
Ashibinaa is also celebrating the holidays with classical crossover concerts now through Christmas at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Illumination Street. Admission is free. Natchy performs the 18th at 5:30 p.m. and at 4 p.m. on the 23rd, while the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force Band performs Saturday from 3:30 p.m. ~ 4:30 p.m. at the Ashibinaa open space. Saturday and Sunday at the 1st floor special stage, free performances are offered at 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. by Eve 3 Rollin.
Southeast Botanical Gardens is in the holiday spirit, and its illumination season is under way. Southeast Botanical Garden has a variety of events in six beautiful illumination areas. The event of ‘Love Love Key Lock’ is good for couples. You buy a heart-shaped padlock and put you and your lover’s name on, then lock on a heart-shaped lattice at Love area. For kids, you can put a wishing card for Santa Claus at a symbol tree.
Weekends and holidays there are music events by local artists at the Water Garden. Warau-tsuki performs at 6 p.m. Saturday, and Civilian Skunk is on at 8 p.m. People can participate in tree planting experience at Southeast Botanical Garden, something designed to create that special memory. Visitors can buy a nursery plant for ¥1,910 and plant it at the park’s Partner Ship. The tree-planting runs through February 15th.
Southeast Botanical Gardens special activities take place through February 15th, 5 p.m. ~ 10 p.m. daily. Admission is ¥1,800 for adults, ¥1,000 for high school students, ¥500 for junior high and elementary school students. Entry is free for children under six years of age.
Admission ticket + dinner package is available except for December 23rd ~ 25th. Adults pay ¥4,500, high school students ¥4,000, junior high school students ¥3,800, elementary school students ¥2,400 and 4~6 years old ¥1,000. Entry is free for 3 year olds and younger. Advance reservations are requested for the 23rd through 25th, when a ¥300 surcharge is added to the fee. Santa will give a Christmas present to elementary school students and younger. Tickets are on sale at FamilyMart e-plus and Lawson tickets.
Drives around the island will produce dozens of businesses who’ve lit up their properties for the holiday season, and hotels are turning up the lights, too. Kanucha Bay Hotel and Villas’ holiday display is worth the drive up north past Camp Schwab, where its eco-sustainable style of holiday lighting is in place daily from 6 p.m. The lights go on with a grade switching-on ceremony each afternoon at 5:55 p.m. The hotel complex has a giant 12-meter Christmas tree, plus an outdoor display of more than 100,000 colorful lights. Kanucha Stardust Fantasia is lit to 11 p.m. at Kanucha Resort, Abu, Nago. Admission is ¥2,000/car in advance, ¥3,000/car at gate through February 28th.
Renaissance Resort Hotel Okinawa, not to be outdone, has its Blue Ocean Fantasy and a 15-meter tall tree. The general public is invited to visit and view the illuminations throughout the holidays, and on through February. There are more than 80,000 LED lights and 13 brilliant blue porpoises who dance on the surface of the water in the swimming pool. Admission is free through February for Blue Ocean Christmas 2014 Garden Illumination, beginning at 6 p.m. each evening.
The Beach Tower Okinawa in Chatan’s Mihama area has a Christmas display running daily 5 p.m. ~ 1 a.m. Admission is free. Not to be outdone, the Christmas season has arrived at Mihama American Village, where the entire village is covered with Christmas lights. The youth town, ferris wheel, the movie theater and shopping area are all decked out with illuminations, including white Christmas trees made of white flowers. Look closely, as there are Santa Claus Christmas decorations and plenty of illuminations. The lights are on every evening starting at 6:30 p.m. through January 10th. Best of all, admission to the Mihama American Village area is free.
The Kariyushi Million Fantasy runs through next June, 6 p.m. – 11:59 p.m. at Okinawa Kariyushi Beach Resort & Ocean Spa, Onna. Admission is free. There is live music by Yutaka & Yoshiro at 7 p.m. & 8 p.m. through June 30th.
The 1000 Shining Dreams Garden Illumination is in progress to the end of the month from 6-10 p.m. at Toyosaki Seaside Park, Tomigusuku. Admission is ¥300 for high school age and over, junior high school children and younger free. Okuma Illumination is – dusk to 11 p.m. through the 31st at JAL Private Resort Okuma. Admission is free. The Machigwa Illumination takes place through next month from 5 p.m. -10 p.m. at Heiwa Dori Shopping Arcade, Naha. Admission is free.
Through January 31st the Atta Terrace Club Towers Christmas Illumination takes place 6-11 p.m. at Atta Terrace Club Towers, Afuso, Onna, Admission is free. The Marriott Christmas is illuminated through Christmas from 6 p.m.-12 a.m. at Okinawa Marriott Resort & Spa, Kise, Nago. Admission is free. The Zakimi Castle Light-up is running through January 29th 6-9 p.m. at Zakimi Castle Ruins, Zakimi, Yomitan. Admission is free.