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Azaleas the weekend sight to see in Higashi Village

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2008-03-22

The delicate azalea flower is called “royalty of the garden”, and it is the star of the show in northern Okinawa’s Higashi Village this weekend.

The Higashi Village Azalea Festival is in full bloom with 50,000 azaleas blossoms blanketing the mountainside and dazzling visitors with their spectacular colors. The festival, which began earlier this month, runs through Sunday, sponsored by the village’s 2,000 residents.

Higashi Village is home to the Pinkshell azalea, one of the first species to bloom each year. Azalea, a delicate, flat-faced pink to white flower, generally measures something between 1¼ and 2½ inches, with spotting on the throat. Higashi Village, located in the Kunigami District on northern Okinawa’s east coast, has hundreds of the bushes scattered around every nook and cranny of the village, showing off their rich textures and vibrant, yet delicate colors.

It’s not your typical festival, as all the focus is on the flowers. Walks through the village’s flower-covered park are a photo opportunity of a lifetime, and even more azalea dot the landscape near the pineapple fields, and on the mountainsides all the way to the ocean. The admission fee is only ¥200 for adults and ¥100 for children under 12.

There are entertainment events this weekend, beginning with a karaoke festival and Okinawa traditional dance performances, lion dances and sanshin players on Saturday. Sunday, the festival’s final day, there’s professional entertainment, lion dances, comedians, and Eisa dance performances by Okinawa Kokusai University students. On both days, village elders will conduct azalea flower planting classes.

This annual festival attracts upwards of 80,000 visitors, including families looking for an extraordinary excursion. There are food vendors and game booths near the village entrance, and for those who want even more, Higashi Village is the perfect place for a picnic. Weekend canoe excursions are offered on the nearby Fukuchi River, the Fukuchi Dam is also close by, as are camping areas and cottages for rent. The cottages have full kitchens, as well as barbeque grills. The festival grounds and camp sites are part of a Higashi Village-owned Eco-Park.

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. It’s about 40 minutes by car, with the signs clearly marking the way. There are also Express buses to Nago, after which passengers switch to local bus lines 73 or 78 to Taira, Higashi Village.

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