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Okinawa's Island of Easter Lilies

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2011-04-14

Get ready to grab the camera, pile family and friends into the car and put a trip to Ie Island on the calendar for next weekend to take in a million Easter Lilies rolling into full bloom on the northwest Okinawa island.

April 18th marks the start of the 16th annual Yuri Matsuri, the Ie lsland Lily Festival, showcasing more than one million teppoyuri, or Easter Lilies, that are a vibrant symbol of this small island. Although the festival, which runs through early May, doesn’t formally begin for another 10 days, there’s nothing to stop folks from heading north as early as this weekend to absorb the beauty of the lilies. The tiny island of 5,000 inhabitants becomes a mini-metropolis for a couple weeks during the festival as tens of thousands of visitors pay homage to the fragrantly sweet lilies.

Ie Island is located west of Motobu on the northwest coast just west of Nago City. The festival builds to its crescendo during its final week, which coincides with Golden Week, one of the island’s principal holiday periods. Ie Island swells with visitors flocking to the flowers, and to the action-packed entertainment schedule that includes taiko drum and Eisa dance performances at Ie Lily Field Park.

For all but the two festival weeks, Ie Island is a farming island, perhaps best known for the monument erected in honor of war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was killed in a hail of Japanese machine gun fire on the island April 18th, 1945, during the battle of Okinawa. The monument is only one of three tribute monuments permitted to remain following Okinawa’s 1972 reversion to Japanese control. Tobacco is a major crop, while cattle are raised on the 20-kilometer circumference island. Fishing and fish farms are also Ie Island enterprises. Also a part of Ie Island life is a U.S. military airstrip manned by small groups of American servicemen.

Make no mistake, though. Lilies are the centerpiece and visitors can wander the paths at will, stopping to take pictures, listen to the soothing sounds of the water surrounding the eight-square-mile island, and even pausing for a food and beverage break at one of the many vendor stands. And it’s more than lilies. Ie Island is known for its daffodils, hibiscus and chrysanthemums, all floral delights. To one end of the lily fields there’s even a small petting farms where youngsters enjoy ostriches, ponies, pigs, goats, chickens and more.

Visitors can make the trek to Ie Island any time—and there are no festival charges until the 18th—in a two-part process. Travel along the Okianwa Expressway to the northern terminus at Kyoda, then on through Nago City on Highway 58. Turn left to Motobu on Route 449, heading to the Motobu Ferry Port. Ferries run frequently from Motobu to Ie Island daily beginning at 9 a.m. At least five runs are available daily, but additional runs will be scheduled in the days ahead to handle Golden Week crowds. The last ferries depart Ie Island at 5 p.m. or 6:30 p.m., depending on the day.

Ferries to Ie Island typically run ¥700 one way (why, we wonder, would someone travel one-way to an island?) or ¥1,330 round trip for adults, and ¥350 one way and ¥650 round trip for kids. On Ie Island, bus transportation from the ferry terminal to Ie Lily Park costs ¥200 each way. Bikes, mopeds, scooters, motorcycles and cars can travel the ferries for the half-hour trip to Ie Island. Round trip cost for a bicycle is ¥1,160, ¥1,500 for a moped, ¥1,960 for a motor scooter and ¥2,420 for a motorcycle. Costs for cars range from ¥4,600 for a 3-meter-long car to ¥9,450 for a 5-6 meter van or SUV.

On Ie Island, tour bus seats may be booked at (098) 049-2053. Motor scooter rentals can be reserved at 090-9781-3063, and car rentals are available at (098) 049-5208.

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