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First festival of year welcomes to Nago

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2010-01-28

Spurred by warmer than normal winter weather, the cherry blossoms are in near full bloom in the Nago area.

Good timing, too, as this is the weekend for the 48th Nago Cherry Blossom Festival. The Saturday-Sunday festivities are expected to attract large crowds, with partly cloudy skies and only a 10% chance of showers on Saturday and a high of 65F/18C. Sunday’s a tad more threatening with a 30% chance of scattered showers, but temperatures are expected to hit 68F/20C.

For the Okinawa newcomer, the Cherry Blossom Festival ranks as one of the most beautiful events of the year, with Mother Nature showing her colors with the traditional flowers. This year’s “best viewing” is forecast through February 6th, although the cherry blossoms will be on the trees across Nago, nearby Mount Yaedake and Nakijin Castle Park through late February.

In lesser numbers, cherry trees will soon be spreading their blossoms in areas to the south, including the capital city of Naha.

This weekend’s festival kicks off Saturday with opening ceremonies in the morning, with entertainment running throughout the afternoon and early evening. There’ll be bands and folksongs, young people, and of course, Okinawa dance. Sunday morning is a time for strolling the Nago Castle area high up on the hill, soaking in the cherry blossoms and, perhaps, having a family picnic.

Festivities are held at the base of Nago castle, the expansive home to the local Aji chieftain in the 14th century. The area is now Nago Central Park, where thousands of Taiwan cherry trees show their beauty early each year.

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, where there’s a spectacular view of not only the cherry blossoms, but of Nago and the brilliant shimmering waters of the East China Sea. Be assured that you’re not alone. The event draws tens of thousands of locals, as well as Okinawa visitors.

There is a folk legend about the cherry blossoms of Nago City, which tells why the cherry trees of Nago City are the first to bloom in the world and why they bloom so early.

Legend says that in ancient times there was a farmer who lived a very simple life with his wife and a small dog named Chintin. This dog was a very loyal and good friend of this farmer, accompanying it's master everywhere. A very evil and nosey neighbor lived next to the farmer, always spying on everything that this farmer did. One day, while in the farmer's yard, Chintin started digging and barking at his master, and the farmer looked at him and said "Oh you found something.” The farmer got his shovel and started digging on the same spot until he struck something hard. He put the shovel aside and began brushing away the dirt. Suddenly gold started to appear, the farmer and his wife became very wealthy, and of course the neighbor was watching.

The next day the greedy neighbor went to Chintin's master and asked to borrow the dog. The farmer happily let the neighbor borrow Chintin for a day, and the neighbor took Chintin into his yard and ordered him to find gold or he would beat him. Chintin started sniffing around and soon started digging and barking. The neighbor tied the dog to a nearby tree and began digging. As the neighbor dug deep, a very bad smell and garbage started coming out of the hole, angering the neighbor, who then took the shovel and killed Chintin with the shovel.

When the farmer went to get Chintin back, the neighbor told him that he had killed the dog. The distraught farmer took Chintin's body back to his yard, buried him and planted a pine tree on top of his little grave. For many years they took good care of the pine tree until it grew tall. Years later, the farmer's wife asked her husband "remember how much Chintin liked the rice cakes? Why don't we cut down the pine tree and make a mortar to make rice cakes?” They did, and when the mortar was finished and the wife began pounding the rice to make the cakes, gold started to come out of the mortar. The more she pounded, the more gold would come out. Of course, the neighbor was watching thru the window and later went to the farmer's house and asked to borrow the mortar. When the neighbor got to his house and showed his wife the mortar, he told her it was magic. They put rice inside and started pounding away, when suddenly a bad smell and garbage started coming out of the mortar. The man got so mad that it threw the mortar into the kitchen fire and burned it.

When the farmer went to get his mortar back, of course the neighbor told him what he done. The farmer asked him if he could at least have the ashes back. The farmer took the ashes back to his home, where his wife was tending the garden. When the farmer approached her, she said "remember how much Chintin like these cherry trees and how he used to play and lay under their shade?" The farmer looked at the cherry trees, walked over and sprinkled some of the ashes of the burnt mortar unto them, and immediately the cherry trees blossomed.

The word quickly spread that the farmer's cherry trees had already blossomed. The prince of the village looked to his own cherry orchard and saw that none of the trees were blossoming. He went to see the farmer and asked him if he could make his cherry trees blossom. The farmer happily went with the prince, sprinkled ashes on the cherry trees and they started to blossom. The prince was very happy and knighted the farmer, then made him wealthier than he already was. From then to this day, the cherry trees of Nago are the first ones in the world to blossom

The Nago area has a second cherry blossoms viewing area, Mount Yaedake. More than 4,000 Taiwan cherry trees are now opening in an area just to the west of the big city. Mount Yaedake is the island’s second highest point, at 453.4 meters, and features more than just the cherry blossoms. It’s an area also known as the orchids capital of Okinawa. A winding four kilometer road exposes you to all the beauties Ma Nature can offer.

The Cost

The beauty is free. All else takes yen to purchase. As with all festivals, there are food and beverage vendors, game stands and of course, souvenir booths.

Getting There

This is pretty much a full day excursion, partially because of the activities, but primarily for the traffic. Take the Expressway north to its end, which is Kyodo, just south of Nago. Follow the traffic to Central Nago, and then again as it turns right to Central Park. We recommend parking well away from the festival site, both for cost reasons and ease of getting away when ready to go home. From the bases, plan on 1½ hours minimum to get there, so have the kids visit the bathroom before leaving home.

To visit Mount Yaedake, follow the same route, but instead of turning right at Nago Central Park, continue north another kilometer to Prefectural Road 84. Turn left, and follow the English language signs to Mount Yaedake.

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