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It’s Early Springtime in Okinawa

By: Julio Barthson

Date Posted: 2000-02-04

For the past week, many inhabitants of Okinawa, local nationals and foreign residents alike, have been visiting various parks and other green spaces, from north to south, to admire some of the prettiest gifts of nature: the cherry blossoms.

According to several people who have lived on the island for long, the Okinawa “springtime” season is one of the best moments for those who have great admiration for nature. Since the Spring comes to Okinawa much earlier than in the rest of Japan, it means that the much cherished cherry blossoms also bloom here long before the rest of the country.

The “Sakura” - as the cherry blossoms are called in Japanese - are always a major attraction for Okinawans, tourists from Japan, and the many foreigners living here. One of the best places for cherry blossom viewing is found in Nago City, where the local government actually organizes an official Cherry Blossom Festival.

The 38th Nago Cherry Blossom Festival was the main event on the island last weekend, from Friday, January 28th to Sunday, the 30th. It was coupled with the Okinawa Flower Carnival 2000, which had started earlier with flower-viewing on Sunday, January 23rd, and will continue till this coming Sunday, February 6th. Several sub-events were integrated in the heavily attended Cherry Blossom Festival, which brought together tens of thousands of people of all nationalities from all parts of the island.

From the Festival Opening Ceremony on Friday 28th at 1:00 p.m. to the final Nago Sakura Drumming Team Parade that ended late in the evening of Sunday the 30th, attendants of the festivities had the opportunity to enjoy the following: Elementary, Junior and Senior High School Bands and Prefecture Police Music Band Parades, the Futani Jowa Duet Love Song Contests, the Debut of the 26th Nago Cherry Blossom Beauty Queen, a Dancing Parade by the Local women’s Association and the Nago City Youth Performing Art - all on Saturday. Sunday was marked by the Flower-Viewing Family Hiking, a Fancy Dress Parade, the “Oodoori-Quadeesaa”- a dancing parade, and the final Sakura Drumming Parade. All the parades took place on the main street between Nago’s Oki-Mart and the big Banyan Tree.

Meanwhile, on the Festival Square Stage, lots of kids’ live performances, Hip Hop, streetdance and breakdance shows, dancing competitions, comic shows, live Okinawan bands and a wide selection of artists playing folk music, modern music and instrumental inspirational sounds, were going on simultaneously. On Sunday, Nago City also received a “Message of Snow” - in the form of real snow - sent from Takikawa City in Hokkaido, a sister-city of Nago. Many children and adults found themselves in the Kids’ Square of the festival ground running around and playing cheerfully in the “imported” snow, to the point of even improvising a snow war.

By the time the Nago Cherry Blossom Festival ended, most of the attendants, kids and adults alike, were expressing delight over a weekend well spent in the midst of all the different cultural symbols that came to enhance the beauty of the flowers. All over Okinawa, the arrival of this year’s early spring has been interpreted as a sign of better things to come, particularly as the G8 Summit scheduled for July 2000 promises to be a great boost for the island’s culture and economy. That may be the reason why Nago’s Cherry Blossom Festival was so much intertwined with G8 Summit themes, flags and regalia.

Many foreigners on the island, particularly Americans were present at cherry blossom viewing events all over the island, especially at the big Nago Festival. For these foreigners - most of whom are Christians - the arrival of Spring in Okinawa may have a special meaning. US Marine Corps’ Chaplain Biadog, who went out into Gushikawa to take pictures of the beautiful flowers in their short-lived full bloom, told Japan Update that “God’s beautiful creation emanates from his love and goodness to all of us.”

“For the Christian community,” he added, “the cherry blossoms speak of hope and the promise of resurrection.”

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