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Dazzling lights signal start of holidays

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2010-12-02

Santa’s making his list and checking it twice, while on Okinawa the holiday spirit is beginning to catch fire with plans for spectacular lights displays and shows.
From northern Okinawa to the far south, cities and businesses are making final adjustments to holiday extravaganza’s to begin little more than a week from now. There’s something for everyone, and countless opportunities for shutterbugs to capture memorable photographs.

The 12th Itoman Peaceful Illumination Festival kicks off two weeks from tomorrow, a festival dedicated to prayers for peace. More than 1.3 million miniature lights are being lit in Itoman City December 17th, site of where the 1945 Battle of Okinawa came to an end. Organizers call the festival an event “sending to the world Okinawa’s prayers for peace.”

This year’s theme is: Peace from Okinawa to the World. Lights will be illuminated daily from 6 p.m. ~ 10 p.m. through January 3rd. Admission Fee to the 12th Itoman Peaceful Illumination Festival is ¥200. Prayers take place each evening at 8 p.m. as the festival conducts a ‘starlight wink’ where all illumination is turned off once, then lit back again. More than 120,000 visitors are expected during the illumination run. Two live concerts are slated for Christmas night and New Years Eve, with both featuring fireworks. A New Year’s countdown will be broadcast live on Okinawa television.

Southeast Botanical Gardens in Okinawa City sets its grounds aglow with tens of thousands of lights on December 22nd ~ 26th. Warm Heart Christmas takes visitors to a dazzling display of color, including colorfully decorated palm trees, banyan trees, hibiscus, bougainvillea and other carefully decorated plants and flowers. Southeast Botanical Gardens night time market has food booths, restaurants and a dinner buffet as well as household goods. Tickets are provided for the special program menu.

A foods passport that includes the booth, coffee place and foods, is available for ¥1,200 for all persons age 12 and older. Children 11 and under are free to go to the booth places, but may not eat the foods for free. A combination Restaurant Passport and special dinner ticket is ¥3,000 for those 12 and older, while those under 12 pay ¥1,500. Children under six eat free.

To visit South-East Botanical Gardens, exit Kadena Gate 3, continue past Camp Shields, and turn left at the traffic light. There is also a sign pointing to South-East Botanical Gardens at the intersection. Continue 500 meters until you see the entrance to the gardens on the left. Free parking is available outside the gate. Advance tickets for adults and youth over 12 are ¥1,800, or ¥2,000 at the gate. Child tickets for those 6-11 are ¥900 in advance or ¥1,000 at the gate. Children five and under are free.

Christmas Fantasy springs to live again at Okinawa City’s Zoo Park, a holiday special event bringing smiles to adults and children alike. It’s the only place on Okinawa where visitors get to play with snow…really real snow…snowballs…a slide and more. Advance tickets are now on sale at Kadena ITT and MCCS Tours. Adult advance tickets are ¥1,700 and child tickets for those age 4 through junior high school are ¥1,000. Adult tickets at the gate are ¥2,000, while kids tickets are ¥1,200. Christmas Fantasy opens December 23rd and runs through the 28th.

Drives around the island will produce dozens of businesses who’ve lit up their properties for the holiday season, and hotels are turning up the lights, too. Kanucha Bay Hotel and Villas’ holiday display is worth the drive up Highway 58 to the north, where its eco-sustainable style of holiday lighting is in place daily from 6 p.m. The lights go on with a grade switching-on ceremony each afternoon at 5:55 p.m. The hotel complex has a giant 12-meter Christmas tree, plus an outdoor display of more than 100,000 colorful lights.

Renaissance Resort Hotel Okinawa, not to be outdone, has its Blue Ocean Fantasy and a 15-meter tall tree. The general public is invited to visit and view the illuminations throughout the holidays, and on through February. There are more than 80,000 LED lights and 13 brilliant blue porpoises who dance on the surface of the water in the swimming pool.

The Bach Tower Okinawa in Chatan’s Mihama area has a Christmas display running daily 5 p.m. ~ 1 a.m. Admission is free. Manza Beach Resort in Onna also has a free illumination and Christmas display. The resort’s holiday festivities run through December 25th. In Naha’s Palette Kumoji, there’s a Christmas event in the front of the building’s open space tomorrow through Sunday, then again the 20th ~ 12th, and the 17th ~ 19th.

Ie Island’s Hibiscus Festival in Ie Island’s Hibiscus Park opens December 18th with 1,000 varieties of Hibiscus flowers, all in full bloom. The festival is open daily 10 a.m. ~ 6 p.m. through the 26th.

Even as the Itoman Peaceful Illumination is set to begin, plans are being finalized for the 32nd Mabuni Fire & Bell Observance New Year’s Eve into New Year’s Day. The ceremonial festival takes place at Okinawa Peace Memorial Hall, which also stands in Mabuni, with prayers being offered to the 230,000 who died during the Battle of Okinawa. Just before the new year arrives, moments before the stroke of midnight, the flame of prayer will descend from the 45-meter-high bell tower to light participants’ torches as they welcome in the new year.

As a choir sings, the Bell of Peace is rung as participants light the large flame holder with their torches. It’s a solemn, chilling festival that’s not to be missed.

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