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Okinawa's Island of Easter Lilies in full bloom

Date Posted: 2012-04-20

A million Easter Lilies are rolling into full bloom on the northwest Okinawa island if Ie, just in time for the start of the annual Ie Island Lily Festival.

Saturday marks the beginning of the 17th 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 May 6th,, 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.

Events on stage are slated for the weekend of April 28th and 29th, and again the first weekend in May during Golden Week, on May 5th. Yuriko Itoyama performs at 7 p.m. Sunday the 29th, and Kiiyama Shoten takes to the stage at 8 p.m. The Eisa Festival featuring Taiko drum grounds kicks off at Noon May 3rd, followed by a live concert at 7 p.m. with Glean Piece, Don’t Stop and Eastern Crew. On may 5th, mark the calendar for 1 p.m. for the Sakura Concert. The festival’s final concert is May 6th, featuring Last Night Live by Sakura Ishado at 6 pm.

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 the buildup to 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 Americans 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 a small group 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—in a two-part process. Travel along the Okinawa 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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