Cherry blossoms to bloom in Northern Okinawa
When January’s cherry blossom season rolls around on Okinawa, it means it’s time to hit the road and head north.
Although there are several locations on the island for cherry blossom viewing, those in “Yambaru,” which refers to hilly areas in the north, draw special attention for a couple of reasons.
First, they have the earliest bloomers on the island. The so-called “cherry blossom front,” which refers to the frontline of cherry blossom blooming, travels north to south. On the mainland, the front goes in the opposite direction due to a difference in the type of cherry blossoms.
Locations in the north, such as Mt. Yaedake (Mt. Yae), Nakijin Castle Ruins, and Nago Chuo Park, draw large crowds of people looking for the earliest bloomers in the country.
Second, the mountains and forests of Yambaru are in themselves great attractions for a quick getaway. When they are adorned with the pink color of the cherry blossoms, the dynamic nature of the north becomes even more attractive.
At Mt. Yaedake, which kicks off the season Jan. 19, visitors can drive up a 2.5-mile slope to the top as they enjoy watching cherry blossom trees lining the road. In total, there are about 7,000 cherry blossom trees on the second tallest mountain on the island.
About 25 minutes from Mt. Yaedake, 600 cherry blossom trees add vibrant colors to Nakijin Castle. This World Heritage site is thought to have been built around the 13th century and used as a stronghold for a kingdom which ruled the northern part of the island. During a cherry blossom festival which starts on Jan. 26, the historic site is expected to be lit up at night to set an even more romantic mood.
Nago Chuo Park is known for its grand scale presentation with 20,000 cherry blossoms. The 170-acre park includes castle ruins known as “Nangusuku,” a playground, an area for hiking, and a promenade that runs through a forest and near a river.
These cherry blossom festivals feature food vendors and live music and dancing, as well.
For visitors who go to Yambaru from the middle and southern part of the island, it will most likely take a couple of hours by car. Directions are not so complicated, but they may need some explanation for first timers. To go to Mt. Yaedake and Nakijin Castle, the easiest way is to take the highway, exit at No. 10 (Kyoda), go north on Route 58, and make a left to head northwest on Route 84, which cuts through Motobu Peninsula. An entrance to Mount Yaedake will be seen to the left-hand side of the road.
To go to Nakijin Castle, people will need to make a right on to Route 115 before they hit the coastline of the peninsula.
Nago Chuo Park is not far from Exit No. 10. Go north on Route 58 and make a right on to Route 84 at the first light after passing by an A&W. Turn left at the third signal near the Orion Beer factory and make a right at the first signal to go on a road that runs along a river. Access to the park will be restricted on Jan. 26 and 27 for Nago Cherry Blossom Festival. To go to the park for the festival, utilizing tours offered by Kadena ITT and MCCS will be a good option. MCCS offers a tour to Nakijin Castle ruins too.
Starting late January, there will also be a flower festival at the Expo Park, which is not far from the above-mentioned locations.
In January in Okinawa, the average temperature is expected to be the lowest of the year. However, the flowers give a lot of reasons for people on the island to defy the chill.
57TH NAGO SAKURA FESTIVAL: Jan. 26 - 27, Enjoy a 2K-long promenade full of cherry blossom and the scenery of the East China Sea from the observation deck; at Nangusuku (Nago Castle Park), one of Japan’s best 100 cherry blossom sites; there will be street dance and Eisa performances during the parade; (GPS coordinates: N 26.591461, E 127.998184)
41ST MOTOBU YAEDAKE SAKURA FESTIVAL: Jan. 19 - Feb. 3, viewing period - Jan. 20 - Feb.4, events on Jan. 19 - 20; Ryukyu Kanhi Zakura (7,000 trees) will be in full bloom on Yaedake (Mt. Yae, elevation 453.4m), at Yaedake Sakurano Mori Park; (GPS coordinates: N 26.647773, E 127.915955)
12TH NAKIJINGUSUKU SAKURA FESTIVAL: Jan. 26 - Feb. 11, Traditional art live performances such as Eisa, special products exhibitions, cherry blossom illumination during the night time; at Nakijingusuku (Nakijin Castle); admission: adults-400 yen, elementary-high school students-300 yen, kindergarteners or yonger-free; free parking available up to 320 spots; www.nakijinjoseki.jp/en/ ; (GPS coordinates: N 26.692519, E 127.928072)
OCEAN EXPO PARK CHURAUMI FLOWER FESTIVAL: Jan. 26 - Feb. 24, 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.; In theme of Flower Island Okinawa, approximately 400,000 flowers decorate the park; there will a number of 3D flowerbeds such as octopus, sharks, dolphins, etc.; free admission; free parking available; 0980-48-2741; www.oki-park.jp/kaiyohaku/ ; (GPS coordinates: N 26.694303, E 127.877988)