Sunflower Festival

This post was originally published on February 16, 2011.  We’re pulling it out of the archives so that all of you may have the opportunity (weather-permitting!) to attend this year’s festival, which will be running from today, January 18th through February 2nd this year. 

CONTRIBUTED BY MEGAN PARKER

Sunflower Sign

Sunflowers make the world a brighter place – and the sunflower festival is just what we needed to brighten up our February weekend!  This is a free, fun, easy-to-find gem located so close by for those of us in central Okinawa, there’s really no reason not to attend!

Sunflowers lots

The sunflower fields are in Nakagusuku, not far from the expressway entrance and tucked neatly in between several housing areas.  As we came upon the first of the four fields, I realized just how big and beautiful the flowers really are!  The flowers stand at least 5 feet tall with paths weaving and winding throughout, creating a sort of sunflower maze effect.  Some of the paths are covered with cardboard or wood, enabling you to avoid dirt and mud, but my three-year old loved running through the bare dirt paths with the Japanese kids!

Sunflower drum

As we left the first field and walked up the path to the second field, there were a few vendors selling some produce and traditional Japanese foods.  My son scored an enormous bag of cotton candy for 500 Yen, which I promptly had him share with his new Japanese friend, and at the end of the path I purchased a large bouquet of sunflowers for only 300 Yen.  There were other vendors selling Japanese treats and a few souvenirs as well, but not so many that you were overwhelmed and the festival certainly wasn’t crowded at all. There was festive Japanese music playing from a sound system, and a performer beating a drum to the music.

The second field of sunflowers has a raised platform, enabling you to take elevated pictures of the entire sunflower field.  There are tons of great photo opportunities, and being the only Americans among a sea of friendly Japanese folks, we had a lot of offers to take pictures for and with us!

I’m unsure if the vendors are set up during the week or only on the weekends, as we visited on a Sunday.  I tried to ask a nice Japanese man how long the festival continued, and in our broken English and Japanese, I believe that he indicated that the festival runs through February 27, 2011.  Hurry on over, enjoy the beautiful weather and spend an hour or so checking out the sunflowers!

Sunflower Fam

Directions:  From Camp Lester, head south on 58.  Turn left onto 130 just before Camp Foster.  Turn right onto 330.  Turn left onto 81.  Turn right at the 2nd stoplight onto 146 (toward Nakagusuku Castle).  Cross a small bridge over the toll road, and make a left.  Turn right at the 2nd right turn.  Look for the bright yellow sunflower fields or the yellow sunflower banners.  There is nearby parking along the road.


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10 Comments
  • February 9, 2013

    I had noticed a discrepancy on when the festival would end, so took a chance and came out with the family today! Flowers were so amazing. There were plenty of vendors selling produce, prepared food, flowers and plants. Bring Yen! This is probably the last official weekend.

    Shannon
    Reply
  • January 30, 2013

    My daughter and I visited yesterday, it was very beautiful!! Easy enough to get to and very much worth the drive. Heads up for anyone allergic to bees, there are bees buzzing in the sunflowers . They didn’t bother us even when my daughter hit at a sunflower head with a couple bees in it but just wanted to put it out there!

    Erika
    Reply
  • January 21, 2013

    When is it going to be held this year?

    SoSilly
    Reply
  • January 30, 2012

    Mica11: I would exit Gate 2 and go down to 330 and turn right. Stay on 330 for quite a ways (sorry I cannot be more specific) and you will see the Foster PX gate on your right (as far as I know the gate is currently closed) then you will see the Building 1 gate (aka the Macaroni Grill gate) on your left. Take a left at the next intersection after this gate onto 81. Per the directions in the original article you would then turn right at the 2nd stoplight onto 146 (toward Nakagusuku Castle). Cross a small bridge over the expressway and make a left. Turn right at the 2nd right turn. Look for the bright yellow sunflower fields or the yellow sunflower banners. Hope you find it!

    LaLa
    Reply
  • January 30, 2012

    How do you get there from Kadena?

    Mica11
    Reply
  • January 16, 2012

    Has anyone heard approximate dates for the 2012 Sunflower Festival yet?

    rob
    Reply
    • January 20, 2012

      Saw on Japan Update that the 2012 Sunflower Festival will run from 21Jan thru 5Feb 9:30am – 5:30pm

      rob
      Reply
  • February 19, 2011

    It is nice to see that this Okinawa Hai! author and her family were able to enjoy this spectacular display and had a good time interacting with the local community. Hopefully more people will read this article and will go see an unexpected bright pageant of yellow in February. Most of the following I previously wrote for another purpose, but decided to edit and post it here for those who might be interested in additional information.

    The first photo in the article shows a sign in the field for the festival. The top line reads ひまわりIN北中城. This festival is actually located in Kitanakagusuku Village (population of only about 16,000). Thus, the final three kanji on the sign in the photograph are北中城; Kita-naka-gusuku, literally meaning north-central-castle; so this village is north of Nakagusuku, home to the famous UNESCO World Heritage castle site located less than 2 kilometers further down Route146.
    http://www.okinawahai.com/2008/12/post-dec-12-the.html

    This is the 3rd year for this festival which was scheduled for January 22nd through February 6th 2011. However, due to the extended cold and particularly cloudy period in late December through, well, unfortunately much of January this year, the plant growth and blossoming was delayed about three weeks. Each year, the area planted with sunflowers has increased; this year there are 10,000 square meters planted with an estimated 400,000 blossoms. The Okinawa newspapers have run small articles this week announcing that the blooms will still be in peak condition until February 20. The flowers will probably be visible even through next week if the weather is favorable. There may be some vendors still in the area, but likely not the festival atmosphere described in the OH! article or on my visit in early February.

    There are videos (some from 2009) on YouTube showing this field in bloom. One recent video is in English and states the reason for the planting. The sunflowers are used as fertilizer and mulch for other crops planted in the fields. The sunflower plants also provide soil stability during idle periods between crops. Initially started for this purpose, the flowers unexpectedly became popular with locals and tourists. The village decided to hold a festival as part of revitalization efforts.

    I went to see these fields three times this year, the first two were disappointing due to the lack of blossoms. However, when I arrived on February 6, it was an incredibly gloriously sunny, warm day and the roads, paths and fields were crowed with many excited and happy people. The overwhelming brightness of the sunflowers was equally matched by the big smiles of those who were there as I was, to soak in the sunshine and vivid natural colors; bold crisp yellow flowers gently bobbing in a sea of broad green leaves against a back ground of blue cloudless sky.

    Along the road were some booths of food and other items for sale, though some were sold out, probably from the large crowds of happily strolling people taking time for a snack. There was also a ‘Caricatur’ (that was the exact spelling on his sign) portrait artist who was busy sketching two small children, with many people watching him. He was a very good artist, making a cartoon-style rendering of faces. Looking at the board displaying some of his works, I was surprised to see that President Obama perhaps had come to visit the sunflower fields since his picture had been drawn and put on display.

    The Kitanakagusuku Junior High School is adjacent to the fields and is easily visible as the group of nearby white buildings with the red-tiled slanted roofs. The schoolchildren assist with some field work and in preparing for the festival and promoting it. This year they even participated in singing a specially produced song for the festival that is available for sale on CD.

    On January 29 there was a wedding held in the center of one field sponsored by a bridal salon. The planning activities and portions of the actual ceremony were shown on a local Okinawa TV evening news show and also appear in a few blogs. The groom walked down a path cut through the field while holding over his bride a white umbrella adorned with sunflowers. The bride’s bouquet and hair accessory were, of course, sunflowers and the ceremony ended with the guests throwing not rice but sunflower petals into the air.

    The village estimates around 100,000 people visit the fields each year and they hope to expand the acreage next year. If you will be in Okinawa next January, mark your calendar now as a reminder.

    Additional information for the directions:
    These coordinates can be used to locate the fields on an internet map website:
    26.297359,127.796241
    On most maps and signs you will usually see the full proper village name: 北中城村 Kitanakagusuku-son. The suffix –son means village and the kanji used is the same as for the other Japanese word for village –mura, as in Ryukyu Mura(琉球村), the tourist destination located in Onna Village (恩納村).
    http://www.okinawahai.com/2007/11/ryukyu-mura.html

    Route 146 is the road directly across from the USMC Camp Foster Gate 1B, the gate closest to Westpac Inn. On Route 146 you only drive about 500 meters from that gate and will cross the short overpass bridge above the Expressway. You must turn left immediately after that bridge. If you miss that turn it will be difficult to find the other entrance to the fields farther up the hill, so you should carefully turn around to find that road next to the bridge.

    Other roads in the area, including Route 81 may still also have the yellow banners marking roads and turns leading to the fields. Those banners have ひまわりIN北中城 written vertically on them.

    You can park along the roads and also there are some marked parking spaces adjacent to one field at the base of the back concrete wall of the nearby school. Be careful walking around the fields, the paths can be muddy and slippery and there are some uncovered water drainage ditches next to a few paths and roads.

    If there are no booths with flowers for sale, try to find one of the farmers who are typically in the area and ask for them to cut some for you. I noticed a small wooden donation box in one field.

    This is one a several sunflowers fields in various areas of Okinawa, but the majority are in bloom during the summer months. The “Sunflower In Kitanakagusuku Festival” is unique because each year in January while the focus of Okinawa is on the pink explosion of cherry blossoms, this little village has been able to bring to the middle of the winter season in Okinawa the bright and cheerful ‘Color of Summer’.
    Hurry over to those fields and enjoy the sunflowers.

    Marc
    Reply
  • February 18, 2011

    My kids and I went during the week. There was only one vendor set up and also someone selling sunflowers. The fields were open though and gorgeous. My kids too loved playing hide and seek among the flowers. It was a great outdoor adventure. I highly recommend it! Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting a little muddy.

    Amber
    Reply
  • February 17, 2011

    Just a note…the Japan Update has a story about the festival and says the festival runs through 20 Feb.

    M.M.
    Reply