Beauty is in the air at Okinawa’s Cherry Blossom Festivals
Northern Okinawa has long taken pride of having the earliest cherry blossoms in Japan.
Although cherry trees in Okinawa are not the same variety that people in mainland Japan admire, no one denies that they are as beautiful. The exact day when Okinawa’s pink cherry blossoms burst out depends on weather, but the weekend of Jan. 21 marked the start for the events centering on the pink cherry blossoms.
Three events in the northern Okinawa are dedicated to the blossoms. The first at Motobu’s Yaedake Sakura Forest Park officially started on Jan. 21st and runs through Feb. 5. The Cherry Blossom Festival at Nakijin Castle Ruins Park features plenty of pink flowers from Jan. 28 through Feb. 12, and Nago’s most famous festival that also has the honor of being the first large festival of the year on Okinawa, takes place over the weekend of January 28 and 29.
The Motobu Yaedake Sakura Festival features family-oriented entertainment on all three weekends of its run. There’s also a play area for children, and food and drink stalls. 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 is usually the place where the flowers bloom earliest.
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 on Jan. 28 on the ruins of Nakijin Castle. The castle is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and is the second largest on the island after the Shuri Castle.
The cherry blossom trees around the castle site are illuminated in the evenings from 18:00 to 21:00, 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.
The biggest and best-known cherry blossom festival takes place on Jan. 28th and 29th when the Nago Sakura Festival is held throughout both days and evenings at Nago Central Park and surrounding areas.
Besides massive numbers of food, drink and game booths, there are brass bands and a parade on the city’s main street that is closed for cars during the festival. 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. The event draws tens of thousands of locals and tourists alike every year.
Parking close to the festival area is very limited. The best and free place to park is Nago Fishing Port that has a concurrent gardening festival going on. From there, a free shuttle bus takes visitors 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.