Throughout Japan the yearly arrival of sakura (cherry blossom) season is a much-celebrated event signifying the start of spring. In Okinawa the season differs from that of the mainland due to the larger, more brightly colored blossoms of the prevalent local species and also the fact that the season can begin as early as December or January – three to four months before the earliest of the mainland blooms. In fact, all indications point to a probable December arrival this year. As it is for the rest of Japan, when the sakura finally appear many people celebrate with family picnics or leisurely strolls amid this spectacular but transient beauty. Cherry blossom festivals are celebrated throughout the islands on weekends, but of course you don’t need a festival to enjoy them.
Approximately 7,000 cherry trees lining a three-kilometer mountain road give Mount Yae (453m) a delicate color from base to peak and the pleasant scent of flowers. Located on the mountainside, Sakura-no-Mori Park features playground equipment and a stunning view of Ie Island.
Mount Yae Cherry Blossom Festival
Date: Saturday, Jan. 21-Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017
Place: Mount Yae Sakura-no-Mori Park Admission: Free
Nago Castle Park
The two-kilometer-long walk, which runs through the Nago Castle ruins (Nago Central Park), is lined with 25,000 cherry trees covered with rose-colored petals. Found atop the ruins, approximately 600 steps from the park’s gate, is an observation platform from which you can enjoy a panoramic view of Nago City and the East China Sea. (*The observation platform can be reached by car.)
Nago Cherry Blossom Festival
Date: Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 28-29, 2017
Place: Nago Central Park and the city’s downtown area
Nakijin Castle Ruins
The castle is situated 100 meters above sea level on a hill overlooking northern Okinawa as well as Ihei and Izena islands to the northwest. The high stone walls surrounding the ruins are lit up at night, and the path leading to the castle from the gate is lined with candles, adding a touch of romance to this historic site. Traditional Okinawan entertainment is performed on the specially erected stage during the festival.
Nakijin Gusuku Cherry Blossom Festival
Date: Saturday, Jan. 28-Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017
Time: 8:00-21:00 (night lighting 18:00-21:00)
Place: Nakijin Castle Ruins (219 Nakasone, Nakijin Village)
Admission: Adults 400 yen; elementary school students to high school students 300 ye
Yaese Park is wrapped in a fantastic atmosphere with about 170 lanterns lighting up the cherry trees that line both sides of its long flight of stairs. Perched on a hill, the park overlooks a spectacular night view of the southern part of Okinawa. This is a perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in an Okinawan festival.
Yaese Park nighttime lighting
Date: Friday, Jan. 20-Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017
Place: Yaese Park
*Yaese Cherry Blossom Festival is held on Sunday, Feb. 5.
Located within walking distance of Kokusai Street, Yogi Park is the place to enjoy cherry blossoms in Naha. In spite of the central location, the park features a tranquil, natural setting with about 400 cherry trees lining the walkway and giant banyan and palm trees growing throughout the park. There is a preserved D51-type steam locomotive displayed in the park.
Naha Cherry Blossom Festival
Date: Wednesday-Sunday, Feb. 8-12, 2017
Place: Yogi Park (1-1 Yogi, Naha City)