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Cherry blossoms blooming in northern Okinawa

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2007-01-19

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

The colorful annual spectacular moves into festivals mode beginning this weekend, offering spectators breathtaking views of the island¹s famous blooms.. The 29th Motobu Yaedake Sakura Festival kicks off Saturday, and runs through February 12th. More than 7,000 sakura (cherry blossoms) 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 season¹s first views. You can combine the easy drive around Mount Yaedake with leisurely strolls along walking trails leading to the summit, looking at the ocean seas 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 tangan, as you head toward Motobu.

Motobu Yaedake Sakura Festival activities kick off Saturday morning at 11:40, when Miss Sakura is crowned, the Motobu Junior High School brass band plays and townspeople fill the street in dancing celebration. Formal events Sunday begin at 10am, with a tug-of-war, a kids show and traditional taiko drumming. The events are at Yaedake Forest Cherry Blossom Park in Motobu cho.
Nago City¹s version of the cherry blossom festival is next weekend, a two-day event featuring everything from local bands to singers to children and a parade. The 45th annual festival theme this year is ŒJapanese Spring Starts from Here¹, and will involve most of the northern Okinawa community.

The sakura season¹s best viewing runs through mid-February, February 10th to be exact.

There¹s plenty of action, and numerous photo opportunities, at the Nago Cherry Blossom Festival, which spans several festival locations. Nago Chuo Park is the festival¹s open space, while other activities take place at the special stage in Sakura Park, the Nago Main Crossroad, and at Nago Fishing Port. Organizers say they¹re 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.

Opening ceremonies are at Nangusuku at 11am Saturday, followed in the afternoon by a brass band parade from Marudai to the Museum. There will be futamijowa competition at 4pm on the special stage, followed at 5pm by a dancing parade conducted by the Nago Women¹s Association. Saturday events round out at 6pm with a performance by the Nago City Youth Entertainment Group.

Sunday afternoon events begin at 2pm with Masquerade, followed by Okinawa dances and the Nago City Sakura-Taiko Marching Performance. The festival will also offer an ice carving competition near the Banyan Tree at Himpun Gajimaru on Sunday, starting at 11am. There will also be the 7th annual flower garden inside the warehouse at Nago City Fisherman¹s Wharf. 

Eisa dance performances, live karaoke song contests, brass band performances and live music shows will take place throughout Saturday and Sunday afternoons at several festival locations.

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. There will be restrictions form Namdemo-Ya to Ohminam Police Station from 3pm to 8:30pm Saturday, and from 1pm to 8:30pm Sunday.

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 mountain. Once there, take in the breathtaking, spectacular view of not only cherry blossoms, but of Nago City and the shimmering waters of the East China Sea. 

Two other northern Okinawa communities get into the sakura festivities next weekend as well. The Nakajin Castle Cherry Blossom Festival, also in the Motobu area, is January 27th.

To the south, the Yaese Town Cherry Blossom Festival is January 27th.

Yaese, in southeastern Okinawa, is a town created last year by a merger between Gushikami and Kochinda.

The lure of cherry blossoms can be satisfied without the long northerly drive. The Shuri Cstle Cherry Blossom Festival will be January 28-30, at Shuri Castle Park in Naha City. The three-day festival will operate 9am-6:30pm daily. Admission is ¥800 for adults, ¥600 for high school students and ¥300 for junior high school and elementary students.

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 noted before the traffic is heavy, because you¹re not the only one wanting to see the cherry blossoms. Take the Expressway north to its end, at Kyodo, just south of Nago. Follow the traffic to Central Nago, then again as it turns right to Central Park. We recommend you park well away from the festival site, both for reasons of cost, but also the ease of getting away when it¹s time to go home. 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. Don¹t 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 kilometer to Prefectural Road 84. Turn left, then follow the English language signs toward Ocean Expo Park until you see a sign pointing to Mount Yaedake.

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