On a day in late January, Mount Yaedake was crowded with people there to see the Japan’s earliest bloomers.
The visitors were welcomed by the roughly 3,000 cherry blossom trees in various shades of pink that lined a winding road that runs four kilometers from the bottom to the top.
The many visitors all enjoyed the trees in full bloom in their own ways. Some parked their cars along way and looked for picture-perfect spots on foot, while others headed to the top to get a look of the vibrant pink flowers set against the deep green of the forest or the pale blue of the ocean in the background.
Getting a close look, I found birds busily looking for flowers to put their beaks into, while under the trees, people enjoyed a picnic and some ice cream. If this were on the mainland, ice cream for cherry blossom viewing might sound a little odd. But on this sub-tropical island, it can be a perfect blossom-viewing food, even in this time of the year.
Cherry blossoms in Okinawa are different from that on the mainland. Although those on Okinawa may dazzle people with their vibrant pink colors, they don’t produce a shower of blossoms, which is thought to be a highlight of cherry blossom scene on the mainland.
But even without petals flying in the air, the earliest bloomers dazzle visitors like Paul and Britney Andras, a couple who visited the mountain with two of their children.
“Last year, we went to the Nakijin ruin (castle), but I think this is a lot better,” Britney said. “More flowers, more trees - just pretty good.”
Paul was surprised to see the early arrival of the flowers.
“We were not planning on coming today, because we thought they were not going to be ready,” said the husband as the family was on their way to buy ice cream. “They are a lot darker and more colorful than we thought they were going to be.”
If you haven’t caught the early bloomers yet, fear not as there is still time to catch seasonal highlight.
40th Motobu Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival
Date: Through Feb. 4
Location: Yaedake Sakura-no-Mori Park
Address: 921 Namizato, Motobu-cho, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa 905-0222
Admission: Free (Free parking)
Directions: Go north on Route 58 and make a left to Route 84. Pass by Okinawa Pineapple Park and Okinawa Fruit Land on your right. The entrance to Mount Yaedake will be in sight on your left before you hit the coastline. Approx. 1. 5 hour drive from Camp Foster.
11th Nakijin Gusuku Cherry Blossom Festival
Date: Through Feb. 12
Location: Nakijin Castle
Address: 5101 Imadomari, Nakijin Village, Kunigami, Okinawa Prefecture, 905-0428
Admission: 400 yen (adult), 300 (Students), Free for elementary and under (Free Parking)
Directions: Go north on Route 58 and make a left to Route 71. Go north on Route 71 and make a left to Route 505. Go north on Route 505 passing by the sea on your right. Approx. 1.5 hour drive from Camp Foster.
Naha Chura Cherry Blossom Festival
Date: Feb. 10 (10 a.m. – 7 p.m.), 11 (until 6 p.m.)
Location: Manko Park
Address: 3-23-1 Kohagura, Naha, Okinawa 900-0024
Admission: Free (Parking available for a fee)
Directions: Go south on 330. This location is near Naha Military Port and Okinawa Cellular Stadium. Approx. 40 minute drive from Camp Foster
Yaese Cherry Blossom Festival
Date: Feb 4 (Cherry blossoms will be lit up through Feb. 12)
Location: Yaese Park
Address: 1367 Tomimori, Yaese-cho, Shimajiri-gun, Okinawa 901-0402
Admission: Free (Free Parking space available near the park)
Directions: Go south on Okinawa Express Way. Merge onto Naha Airport Expressway at Nishihara JCT after Nishihara Interchange (No.2). Exit at Haebaru Minami and go south on Route 507. Approx. 40 minute drive from Camp Foster.
Naha Cherry Blossom Festival
Date: Feb. 21-25
Location: Yogi Park
Address: 1-1 Yogi, Naha city, Okinawa 902-0076
Admission: Free (*Parking space available at Red Cross Hospital nearby. Subject to fees)
Directions: Go south on 330. Approx. 40 minute drive from Camp Foster.