Cherry blossoms in northern Okinawa invite to enjoy the beauty
Northern Okinawa prides itself as having the earliest cherry blossoms in the nation. The Annual Nago Cherry Blossom Festival also claims the honor of being the first of the big community festivals of the year on the island.
And although the exact day when the pink cherry blossoms actually burst out, this weekend is the signal for the ritual visits to the northern Okinawa for a close-up look at the island’s most famous flowers. Over the next two weeks, starting Saturday, both Motobu’s Yaedake Sakura Forest Park and Nakijin Castle Ruins Park feature events and plenty of pink flowers, with Nago’s most famous festival taking place over the weekend of January 30th and 31st.
The 38th Motobu Yaedake Sakura Festival begins Saturday and runs through February 7th, with admission free to Yaedake Sakura Forest Park in Motobu Town. The flowers’ beauty is best admired along the road up Mount Yae that rises to an altitude of 453 meters. The road is lined with about 7,000 Kanhi Cherry trees that were originally planted by the U.S. military. The Motobu Yaedake Sakura Festival is usually the place where the flowers bloom earliest.
On the next three weekends beginning this Saturday, in a park about halfway up the hill, there is a Miss Sakura 2016 contest, clown show, brass bands and other entertainment. There’s also a play area for children, and plenty of food and drink stalls.
On weekends, cars are allowed up to the park, but the rest of the road to the top of the hill is for pedestrians only. On weekdays, though, one can drive all the way to the second park on the top.
The Nakijin Gusuku Sakura Festival kicks off the same day as the event on Mt. Yae on the ruins of Nakijin Castle. The castle is the northernmost castle among the UNESCO World Heritage listed castles on Okinawa and the second largest on the island after the Shuri Castle.
The difference in Nakijin from other cherry blossom sites is that the cherry blossom trees around the castle site are illuminated each evening, with last entries to the site at 20:30. Admission is ¥400 for adults, and ¥300 for elementary and junior high school age children. Younger children can enter free.
About 300 cherry trees stand in a single row from the castle gate to the main enclosure. During the Festival from Jan. 23rd through Feb. 7th a variety of events is scheduled for the weekends. There’s also a craft fair and cherry tea tasting service every day during the festival.
The biggest and best known cherry blossom festival takes place on the last weekend of the month on Jan. 30th and 31st when the 55th Nago Sakura Festival is held throughout both days and evenings at Nago Central Park and surrounding areas.
Opening ceremonies are at 11 a.m. at the entrance to Nago Castle, followed by brass bands and a parade. At the nearby Transit Mall there are citizen participation events, including street dance, food, amateur singing contest and Taiko drum performance.
The festival area along the pedestrian path leading to Nago Central Park will be lined with hundreds of game, food and drink booths. The main entertainment stage will be along the road. Parades will be held on Nago’s main street.
Good walking shoes or sneakers are recommended for the trek up the well marked and paved roads and walkways to the top of the mountain, from where there’s a spectacular view of not only the cherry blossoms, but of Nago City and the East China Sea. You wont be alone. The event draws tens of thousands of locals and tourists alike every year.
Traffic restrictions will be in place Saturday and Sunday. From Nago Museum to the Recycle Shop Nandemo-Ya traffic is stopped on Saturday from noon ~ 21:00, and 9:00 ~ 21:00 on Sunday. Restrictions will be in place from Anada Bridge to the entrance to Nago Castle the same hours Saturday and Sunday.
To visit the Nago Cherry Blossom Festival is pretty much an all-day excursion, partly because of the walking, viewing, eating and listening to the music, but also because of the traffic. To get there, take the Okinawa Expressway all the way to the last exit in Kyoda and continue north to Nago. Once in Nago, turn right onto Route 84 under the walkway. On your right you will see Orion Brewery. Turn right and then left at the brewery gate and you’ll see the festival to your right.
Parking close to the festival is very limited. The best and free place to park is Nago Fishing Port, from where there is a free shuttle bus to the festival area. Parking at the port also allows for an easy escape when leaving.
To visit Mount Yaedake, follow the same route, but instead of turning right to Nago Central Park, continue on Hwy 58 north through Nago and then turn left onto Route 84 to Motobu. Just before Motobu, watch for signs to left to Mount Yaedake.
To visit Nakijin Castle, go through the Nago City following Hwy 58, and turn left on Highway 84, heading towards Motobu. Shortly before Ocean Expo Park, turn right on Highway 449 and you’re two kilometers away. The route is clearly marked.