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Azalea ready for viewing in Higashi

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2011-03-13

Fifty thousand azaleas are showing their colors in northern Okinawa, only weeks after cherry blossoms made their 2011 debut.

Azalea, the delicate flower called ‘royalty of the garden’, began blooming little more than a week ago because of Okinawa’s unseasonably chilly weather, but is now making its annual splash at the Higashi Village Azalea Festival. The festival officially began its 17-day run last Friday, but now’s the time the festive colors are absolutely perfect. The pink shell azalea is one of the season’s first flowers to bloom, brightly coloring the countryside at Higashi Village in the Kunigami District of Okinawa’s east coast. Admission to the 29th annual Azalea Festival, which runs through March 21st, is ¥300 for adults, but is free is free to those under age 14.

Sponsored by the Higashi Village Festival Committee, which represents the 2,000 local residents, and Okinawa Pocca Company, the festival’s official locale is the Higashi Village people’s forest ‘Azalea Park’, but the vibrant yet delicate white, pink and purple flowers can be seen everywhere in the village, and beyond. Even more flowers dot the landscape near pineapple fields, at landscaped areas, on the mountainsides and down to where the village meets the water.

The flowers, which typically measure 1¼” to 2¼”, have unique spotting along the throat. The festival annually attracts more than 80,000 visitors, lured not only by the azalea, but by the pineapple fields and Higashi Village water, said to be the purest in Okinawa.

This weekend is the Higashi Village Azalea Marathon on Sunday. Late entrants can call the Higashi Village Committee for information. Aside from the marathon, the weekend will feature three, five, eight and 20 kilometer events.

Looking ahead to the final weekend, Saturday’s festival action includes a flamenco dance performance, as well as the Yanbaru musical group performing on stage. On the 20th, the Takae taiko drum group performs, and there’ll be an Eisa dance festival. Monday the 21st, the final day of the festival, there’s a Higashi Village concert, as well as live music by Johnny Ginowan.

The Cost
The festival also features food vendors, entertainment booths, and exhibitions of Azalea bonsai. Admission to Eco-Park is ¥300 for adults. Other expenses, including foods, souvenirs and amusements for the kids, and film are variables.

Getting There
Higashi Village is located on the northeast side of Okinawa, well north of Camp Schwab and a bit south of the Jungle Warfare Training Center. Take Highway 329 north to reach the village. An alternative is to take the Expressway to its northern termination at Kyoda, then follow signs to the east side of the island and Higashi Village. It is about 40 minutes by car, with signs clearly marking the way. There are also express buses to Nago City, after which passengers switch to local bus lines 73 or 78 to Taira, Higashi Village.

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