Sunflowers compete with sakura for visitor attention

Sunflowers are pretty, and a valuable crop prized for its oil and seeds.

Bursts of golden yellow are cropping up in the fields of Kitanakagusuku, where sunflowers are expected to be in full bloom in about three weeks, like the colorful cherry blossoms are in bloom in northern Okinawa this week.

According to organizers, the 7th Sunflower in Kitanakagusuku event, originally scheduled to start this weekend, kicks off in Shiosai Park next to Kitanakagusuku prefectural housing estate, on Saturday, Jan. 28 and runs through Mar. 15th. Admission is free to the festival, which is open daily 10 a.m. ~ 4 p.m.  Parking is limited near the park, but there’s ample parking at the adjacent port.  Details on the venue and parking are available at  https://www.facebook.com/HimawariInKitanaka.  Organizers point out that this year’s festival location at Shiosai Park is a new venue site.

Sunflower fields in Kitanakagusuku are still a couple of weeks off from blooming.

Although not yet in bloom because of the cold weather, the carpet of sunflowers is expected eventually to cover the 10,000 square meters’ site in about three weeks.  During the event, people can come to enjoy the sunflowers any time.

Kitanakagusuku Village is proud of the sunflowers, and is holding its annual Himawari Festival to celebrate.  Aside from viewing and photographing sunflowers, local farmers will be touting their wares, and foods, and beverage stands will be in business during the event.

On plantations at Adaniya and Ogidou, the sunflower, which is indigenous to America before migrating to Asia via Europe in the 16th century, is enjoying sunshine’s return after being impeded by cool temperatures and rain.

The sunflower’s popularity was enhanced when its flavorful oils were squeezed out and the product became a widespread cooking ingredient. Sunflower leaves aren’t wasted, either, being used for cattle feed and the fibrous stems for paper production. Sunflowers often grow to 1.5~5 meters (5-12’) tall, with the flower petals within the sunflower’s cluster are usually in a spiral pattern.