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Colorful azalea sight to see in Higashi

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2009-03-06

Fifty thousand azaleas are showing their colors in northern Okinawa, only weeks after cherry blossoms made their 2009 debut.

Azalea, the delicate flower called ‘royalty of the garden’ is making its annual splash beginning tomorrow as the Higashi Village Azalea Festival begins its three-week run. The pink shell azalea is one of the season’s first flowers to bloom, brightly coloring the countryside at Higashi Village in the Kunigami District of Okinawa’s east coast. Admission to the 27th annual Azalea Festival, which runs through Sunday, March 22nd, is ¥300 for adults. The festival is free to those under age 15.

Sponsored by the Higashi Village Festival Committee, which represents the 2,000 local residents, and Okinawa Pocca Company, the festival’s official locale is the Higashi Village people’s forest ‘Azalea Park’, but the vibrant yet delicate white, pink and purple flowers can be seen everywhere in the village, and beyond. Even more flowers dot the landscape near pineapple fields, at landscaped areas, on the mountainsides and down to where the village meets the water.

The flowers, which typically measure 1¼” to 2¼”, have unique spotting along the throat. The festival annually attracts more than 80,000 visitors, lured not only by the azalea, but by the pineapple fields and Higashi Village water, said to be the purest in Okinawa.

Opening ceremonies take place Friday afternoon, leading into a weekend of live music and dance. Sunday’s entertainment includes a performance by the Nishihara High School Marching Band. There’ll be live music again the weekend of March 14th and 15th, and again March 21st and 22nd. There will also be dance performances by Okinawa Kokusai University on March 22nd.

The Higashi Village Marathon takes place March 15th. Late entrants can call the Highaashi Village Committee for information. Aside from the marathon, the weekend will feature three, five, eight and 20 kilometer events.

The Cost
The festival also features food vendors, entertainment booths, and exhibitions of Azalea bonsai. Admission to Eco-Park is ¥300 for adults. Other expenses, including foods, souvenirs and amusements for the kids, and film are variables.

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 signs to the east side of the island and Higashi Village. It is about 40 minutes by car, with signs clearly marking the way. There are also express buses to Nago City, after which passengers switch to local bus lines 73 or 78 to Taira, Higashi Village.

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