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Cherry blossoms blooming in northern Okinawa

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2012-01-27

Cherry blossoms are blooming into season in northern Okinawa, a few days ahead of the normal seasonal schedule.

The colorful annual spectacular festivals are in full swing, offering spectators breathtaking views of the island’s famous blooms both in Motobu and Nago City.

The annual Cherry Blossoms Festival in Nago is nothing to be sneezed at, with more than 20,000 Taiwan cherry trees showing off their deep pink blossoms. The Nago festival’s been around since 1928, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year. This year’s theme is the “Spring Term in Japan Starts From Here”.

Nago City’s version of the cherry blossom festival features everything from local bands to singers to children and a parade. The 50th annual festival this weekend will involve most of the northern Okinawa community.

The sakura--Japanese for cherry blossom-- season’s best viewing runs through mid-February with ’s plenty of action, and numerous photo opportunities, at the Nago Cherry Blossom Festival, which spans several festival locations. Nago Chuo Park is the festival’s open space, while other activities take place at the special stage in Sakura Park, the Nago Main Crossroad, and at Nago Fishing Port.

The parade events on Sunday include the elementary, junior high school and high school brass band parade at 10 a.m., the women’s association dancing parade at 11 a.m., and the Nago City Youth Performing Arts Festival Dance Parade at noon. The costume procession gets under way at 1 p.m. All parades run from the Marudai to the Nago Museum on Nago City’s main street.

Shuttle busses will operate between the Nago Fishing Port and Nago Castle Ruins north observatory, and lights will be set up for watching the cherry blossoms in the evening. Festival organizers say the lights will burn from 6 p.m. ~ 9 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday for evening viewers to enjoy the cherry blossoms, calling the lanterns stretching along the staircases “beautiful and dreamy”. The shuttle busses will run each day from noon until 8:30 p.m. The transit mall will be located at Nago crossing, in front of the Nago Museum to the recycle shop.

Organizers say they’re promoting mutual friendship among islanders and visitors, and will offer several parades involving youngsters and also commercial businesses who will get fancy and dress up. Eisa dance performances, live karaoke song contests, brass band performances and live music shows will take place during the festival at several

The opening ceremonies are at 11 a.m. Saturday, followed by the Futami jouwa contest in the special open space and the Flower Village Garden Fest 2012 at Nago Fishing Port. The events at the Sakura Park open space will run 1 p.m. ~ 8:30 p.m. both days.

There’s also the 34th Motobu Yaedake Sakura Festival running through February 12th. More than 7,000 sakura are displaying their brilliant pinks from the base of Mount Yaedake, upward to the peak 453 meters up.

Break out the cameras, load up the car, and head north for the season’s breathtaking views. You can combine the easy drive around Mount Yaedake with leisurely strolls along walking trails leading to the summit, looking at the ocean while appreciating the fresh spring air. Veteran cherry blossom viewers combine the scenic beauties with some practical stops along the way, picking fresh Okinawa oranges, known as tankan, as you head toward Motobu. The events are at Yaedake Forest Cherry Blossom Park in Motobu Town.

Organizers have established special traffic control measures to ease traffic jams and bottlenecks next weekend. Restricted traffic zones are from Nago Museum to Nandemo-Ya, a recycle shop. You will encounter restrictions form Nandemo-Ya to Ohminami Police Station. Restrictions are in place noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday from Anada Bridge to the entrance of Nago castle. We recommend visitors leave home early, and allow time for a leisurely drive. The festival centers at the base of Nago castle, an expansive home during the 14th century era of the local Aji chieftain. Good walking sneakers or shoes are strongly recommended for your treks up the walkways and paved roads leading to the top of the hill.

Other northern Okinawa communities get into the sakura festivities, as well as exhibitions of other flowers. The Nakijin Castle Cherry Blossom Festival, is going on, while to the south, the Yaese Town Cherry Blossom Festival flowers are no less beautiful. Yaese, in southeastern Okinawa, is a town created a few years ago by a merger between Gushikami and Kochinda. Take note that the lure of cherry blossoms can be satisfied without the long northerly drive. The Shuri Castle Cherry Blossom Festival takes place at Shuri Castle Park in Naha City, while the Nakijin Castle Festival, runs through February 5th, as well. And then there’s the Sun Flower in Kitanakagusuku Festival at Kitanakagusuku Himawari Field near the Kitanakagusuku Junior High school, also free through February 5th.

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 shops and stands.

Getting There
The Nago Cherry Blossom Festival is pretty much an all-day excursion, partly because of the walking, viewing, eating and listening to the music, but also because of the traffic. We note that traffic is heavy, because you’re not the only one wanting to see the cherry blossoms. From Naha Airport take the Okinawa Expressway, exit at Kyoda the last exit. Continue north toward Nago. Once in Nago, turn right onto Route 84 under the walkway. On your right you will see Orion Brewery. Turn left at the brewery and take an immediate right.

During cherry blossom season and on the days of the festival it is advised to park well away from the park both for cost and to allow for an easy escape when leaving. There will be many parking areas with people trying to get your attention to park. From the bases, plan on at least one hour travel time to get there. Don’t forget to have the little ones make their pottie breaks before leaving home.

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

To visit Nakijin Castle, go through the Nago City Center, then turn left on Highway 84, heading west. Shortly before Ocean Expo Park, turn right on Highway 449 and you’re two kilometers away. The route is clearly marked.

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