Okinawa Azalea Festival is spring in full swing

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

Although it has been only a month since cherry blossom festivals took place in Okinawa, the time for another early bloomer is soon arriving. From March 1 - 24, Tsutsuji  Matsuri (Azalea Festival) will return for its 37th installment at a flower park in Higashi village, known as a village of pineapples, water and flowers. This northeastern village is about a 40-minute drive from Camp Schwab and 1.5 hours from Camp Foster.

Spring in full swing

Cherry blossoms on Okinawa may have offered a sneak peak of a spring yet to come, but azaleas announce the arrival of the vernal season with fanfare. The spring flowers bloom with voluminous petals in various colors and draw large crowds to the park.

According to the village office, 40,000 people on average come to the flower park to see 50,000 azaleas in bloom.

Unlike cherry blossom festivals held in the forest of Mt. Yaedake or the historical heritage of Nakijin castle, this azalea festival displays the flowers in a location that was developed by reclaiming a hilly area about 40 years ago to allow people to enjoy the flowers.

Take one step in the park, and you are greeted with a hill covered in azaleas of all colors aligned in geometric patterns. Paved roads run up and down, presenting different angles for the colorful flowers to be seen. There is also a bridge over a valley that carries people from one hill to another. The view of the colors against the backdrop of Taira Bay (Pacific Ocean) is something the village is most proud of. Thanks to the effort of local citizens, who planted the  azaleas and maintain the park every year, this festival is now one of the major events that celebrates the earliest spring in Japan.

Explore East

The host municipality, Higashi-son, which means “a village of east” in Japanese, is a hidden gem in a sense. Looking at the map of Okinawa’s main island, especially from the mid to northern part, you will notice that there are far more resort hotels or tourist spots on the west side of the island than on the east.

Starting with places like the Aquarium, Okuma Beach, Maeda point, and even the venues of three major cherry blossom festivals, Mt. Yaedake, Nakijin Castle, and Nago Sakura Koen, many attractions are found on the west side of the island.

But the azalea flowers that flourish in the village of east are something to be seen.

Plus, around the park, there are rivers where you can kayak and enjoy views of mangroves. If you trek in the mountains, you would see an interesting tropical tree with roots that look like curving plywood. And there are parks for other flowers such as rose, hibiscus, and dahlia. Although it may still be too early for pineapples, there is more than enough to see in the “Village of flower, water and pineapple.”

When March comes around, it’s time for the east side of Okinawa to shine.

 

Higashison Tsutsuji Matsuri (Higashi Village Azalea Festival)
Location: Higashison Min no Mori Tsutsuji en (Azalea Park in Higashi villagers’ Forest)
Dates: March 1 - 24
Admission: 300 yen for high school students and above; free for middle school students and below
Special Feature: Many food stands are expected to open during the festival.

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