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Colorful Azalea beckon in Higashi

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2012-03-02

The delicate flower is called “royalty of the garden”.

Azaleas, an early spring beauty grown in hundreds of varieties around the world, are making their annual Spring debut in Okinawa northern areas with more than 50,000 azaleas in bloom, leading Higashi Village to host its Azalea Festival.

The month-long festival has its high points today through Sunday, with a variety of entertainment to complement the natural beauty of the flowers. Once past today’s opening ceremonies, Higashi Village Friday welcomes Okinawa International University’s Eisa, Tururunten and Ryuta Shiroma. On Saturday, the Nishihara High School marching band performs, along with Okinawa International University’s Ryukyu classic performance. Also on the KEN Stage will be Natchy, Yoriko Ganeko, and Akane Murayoshi & Arakachi.

The Pink shell azalea is one of the first species to break into bloom each year, led only by the cherry blossoms that welcomed 2012 in late January. Azalea, a delicate, flat-faced pink-to-white flower, typically measures something between 1¼ and 2¼ inches, with spotting in the throat. The azaleas are expected to be at their peak viewing starting this weekend.

Azaleas are one of three major focuses for the northern Okinawa village. The others are vast pineapple fields and what’s said to be the purest water found anywhere. The annual festival draws upward of 80,000 visitors, so you’ll be in good company. And don’t forget the camera. The Higashi Park received a facelift some nine years ago, and is now called Azalea Eco-Park.

Attending the festival is a day-long event, and should include a session on how to plant azalea at 11am, a sightseeing tour of Higashi Village at 12:30 p.m., and a karaoke festival and contest in the afternoon. The park is open daily throughout the week.
Still to come is a folk song festival and more teaching sessions on the planting, care and raising of azalea. In addition to live music this weekend, RBC iRadio will broadcast on the 8th, Eiji Oshiro performs on the 10th, as will Meiou University with Eisa, Shuken Maekawa and Sansanaa. The 11th sees SAKuRA on stage, together with Okinawa University’s Eisa team, Chihiro Kamiya and Koichi Kamiya.

The 30th Azalea Marathon is March 18th. The event, put together by the Higashi Village Committee, is officially locked in, but a late entrant wanting to run can contact the village and ask for special consideration. Entry fee for the run, which begins at 8 a.m., is ¥2,000, and ¥1,000 for senior and junior high school students. Call (098)043-2265 to participate. There will be three, five, and 20 kilometer events.

Leading up to the marathon will be a Park Golf festival on the 17th, a Karate exhibition, Eisa from Okinawa International University and Ryujin Mabuya. Also the weekend of the 17th ~ 18th there’ll be Chinese music live, a Yanbaru music performance, and Yuria Mano on stage, and Karaoke. The last musical day is the 20th, with the Segway experience, Higashi Village folks songs, Donna Orka, Kinjo Seiko and Yoshimoto live entertainment.

The Azalea festival is big on Eco-tours in the neighboring Eco Park. Tours, complete with guides, are available for the ventures into the forest. Bungalows and camping sites are available. Cottages have full kitchens, as well as barbeque grills. Also close to the park is Fukuchi Dam, with tours also being offered.

There’s another famous note to Higashi Village. Her name is Ai Miyazato, the teenage golfer sweeping the ladies professional tour. The 19-year-old is a village native. She’s already a multi-million-dollar moneymaker, starting this year’s Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour with back-to-back wins, coupled with a seventh place finish in last weekend’s Daikin Orchid Tournament on Okinawa.

The cost
The 30th Annual Azalea Festival is inexpensive. Admission to Eco-Park is ¥300 for adults and is free for children. Costs associated with participating are, as always, the costs of foods, souvenirs, amusements for the children, and film. There’s free parking for more than 500 cars in an area just outside the village festival area.

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 past Camp Schwab, and then turn right onto highway 331 to reach the village. An alternative is to take the Expressway to its northern termination at Kyoda, then continue on Hwy 58 north past Nago. At Shioya Bay turn right across the island. It’s about 40~60 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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