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Colorful azalea a sight to see in Higashi

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2005-03-04

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

Azaleas in their hundreds of varieties grown around the world, are making their annual Spring debut on Okinawa Island’s northern areas. In recognition, Higashi Village is hosting its Azalea Festival Sunday through March 21st.

The Pinkshell azalea is one of the first species to break into bloom each year, led only by the cherry blossoms that welcomed the new year in late January. Azalia, a delicate, flat-faced pink to white flower, typically measures something between 1¼ and 2¼ inches, with spotting in the throat.

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 two years ago, and is now called Azalea Eco-Park.

Opening ceremonies are a day-long event, starting at 10am, and include a session on how to plant azalea at 11am, a sightseeing tour of Higashi Village at 12:30pm, and a karaoke festival and contest at 3pm. The park is open daily throughout the week.

The following weekend there’s a folk song festival and more teaching sessions on the planting, care and raising of azalea.

The 23rd Azalea Marathon is a week from Sunday. 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 March 13th run, which begins at 8am, is ¥1,000. Call 098-043-2265 to participate. There will be three, five, eight and 20 kilometer events.

The Festival’s final weekend, the three-day Japanese holiday, has a basketball tournament, an eisa drum show and dances, and a Nishihara High School marching band performance on the 19th. An azalea walk and lectures are on the 20th, along with a sanshin performance. The festival caps with azalea dye classes, sightseeing, fabric dying classes, fishing, putter golf and a canoe trip on the 21st.

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 million-dollar moneymaker, with a win in South Africa and a second place finish in Australia last month.

The cost

The 23rd Annual Azalea Festival is inexpensive. Admission to Eco-Park is ¥200 for adults and ¥100 for youngsters 6-11 years of age. Costs associated with participating are, as always, the costs of foods, souvenirs, amusements for the children, and film.

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 to reach the village. An alternative is to take the Expressway to its northern termination at Kyoda, then follow the signs to the east side of the island.

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