Sakura festivals quickly coming into bloom

Some 7,000 planted cherry trees line the road to the top of Mt. Yae.

The annual ritual of treks to northern Okinawa to see the unfolding of traditional Taiwan cherry blossoms on slopes of forests is under way, with thousands of people –and almost as many vehicles clogging the Okinawa Expressway—anxious to see the brilliant pink blossoms.

Thousands visit Yaedake during the cherry blossom season.

The 37th Motobu Yaedake Sakura Festival runs through February 1st, with admission free to Yaedake Forest of Sakura Park in Motobu Town.  The flowers’ beauty is best seen at Mount Yae along the road up to the hilltop with an altitude of 453 meters, all dyed in pink Taiwan cherry blossoms.  The Motobu Yaedake Sakura Festival is the first of the year as the flowers bloom earliest in the northern region.  The festival involves a cherry tree exhibition, dance and drum performances this weekend, and the beauty of the flowers.

The opening ceremony for the 37th Motobu Yaedake Sakura Festival starts at 2 p.m. At the ceremony, the new Miss Sakura will be announced, a contest will be held and there will be dances from the children of Motobu. Later, there will be attractions like clown shows, the most delicious Okinawa soba contest and more. More events and concerts are scheduled for the weekends of Jan. 24th and 25th, and Jan. 31st and Feb. 1st.

Northern Okinawa officials say the best time to see the sakura is during the daytime.  The peak viewing period is projected to be the last week of January.  There is no charge for viewing cherry blossoms on Mount Yaedake.  Beware, though that traffic is typically heavy during cherry blossom season.  There are several routes to get to Yaedake, but none will get visitors all the way to the top on weekends because the road to the top is closed for cars. The drive is possible on weekdays when there are less visitors.

The Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival is held in mid-January every year. Yaedake, the second highest mountain on Okinawa at 453.4 meters, is designated as a prefectural wildlife reserve. The road to that goes up to the top is 4.5km long and is lined with 7,000 Kanhi-Zakura Cherry trees, which were planted on both sides of the street. Unlike Somei-Yoshino Cherry blossoms, which can be seen in the mainland of Japan, Kanhi-Zakura Cherry blossoms have a vivid pink color. The Okinawa-U.S Friendship Association planted the Cherry trees for the purpose of cleaning up the streets while Okinawa was under the U.S. Military control after the war. Local residents and U.S. Military personnel worked together to cut out naturally grown cherry trees and plant them along the street. A large number of people from all over Okinawa visit this mountain during the Cherry Blossom Festival. From the observation deck on the top of the mountain visitors have a sweeping view of the town of Motobu as well as Ie Island off in the distance.