CONTRIBUTED BY ANTHONY CAMINA
It is that time of the year. A time for Christmas carols, sleigh bells jingling and beautiful lights a twinkling. If you thought being on Okinawa meant that you would have to sacrifice these yuletide traditions, then read on for some friendly suggestions. One thing the Okinawa people have embraced over the years is the American concept of Christmas. It is understandable that the warmth of the holiday season would eventually be infectious to the local residents.
The southern parts of the island celebrate Christmas in grand fashion, but I have always found a special charm in Okinawa’s northern areas. Don’t get me wrong, I love taking a stroll through Aeon or San A’s décor and the Southeast Botanical Gardens or areas around Itoman have spectacular exhibitions well worth a visit. If you are like me and take a serious pocket book beating every holiday, then fun and free activities during all the time off are particularly good ways to get in the holiday spirit without turning in to Ebenezer Scrooge. Here a few of my suggestions:
This resort is located directly off Highway 58 just south of the Okinawa Expressway 10 Exit. The resort features well over one million lights throughout the grounds in 11 different illumination areas.
The illumination exhibit is open to the public and visitors are welcome to enjoy the souvenir shops and various cafés and restaurants on the grounds. There are many signs that point out the resort and the entrance is hard to miss as there are parking attendants and grand illuminated archways visible from highway 58. When you drive into the road just tell one of the parking attendants with the glowing traffic wands “illumination” so they know you are visiting for the lights and are not an actual hotel guest. Parking is also free, though you may have a bit of a walk to the main illumination area depending on how crowded it is. I recommend going during a weekday to avoid the Japanese tourist congestion. The display runs from November 29th to the end of June and can be enjoyed from sunset until midnight daily.
Google Map Coordinates: 26.528977, 127.928923
Zakimi Castle is bathed with vibrant blue, red, and green spotlights for this holiday season. The light cascading across the ancient archways and through the forest creates an enchanting scene well worth your time.
Aside from the colored lights, the fresh smell of the pine trees also adds to the Yuletide atmosphere. The views of the city skyline and stars (on a clear night) are also an added bonus. The castle will be illuminated from November 1st to January 29th and can be enjoyed from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Website: http://www.vill.yomitan.okinawa.jp.e.iq.hp.transer.com/events/2014/11/post-366.html (English language button is on the top right corner of the page.)
Directions: Zakimi Castle is located just north of Kadena Air Base in Yomitan. From Highway 58 take either route 6 or route 12 east and follow the white point of interest road signs to the park. Traffic attendants will direct you to the best parking areas.
Google Map Coordinates: 26.406515, 127.742308
3. Kin Town Christmas Displays
The residents of Kin Town are working hard with Camp Hansen to extend friendship and hospitality to their neighbors by setting up a few holiday displays. The most obvious attraction is just outside Camp Hansen Gate 1 and features an impressively tall Christmas tree in the center of a fairly elaborate holiday diorama. This first holiday area is changed to a traditional Japanese New Year’s theme right after Christmas. Kin Town Square, located behind Richamocha Café, also has an impressive array of lights and features a more traditional looking tree. Finally, for those willing to venture away from the base can find another holiday lighted area at the Kin Town spring. For the first two areas, I recommend parking at the municipal parking lot across from Restaurant Karia and adjacent to Camp Hansen Gate 1. The spring can be found north of Camp Hansen Gate 1, just turn right at the turn across the street from the Kin Family Mart and follow the green road down the hill. Details can be found at Camp Hansen’s Facebook Page.
Kin Spring Map Coordinates: 26.454052, 127.928488
Ocean Expo Park has a brilliant light display located in the main and central area of the park. Christmas music plays throughout the grounds as you enjoy the glow of various aquatic characters all decked out for the holidays.
The dancing fountain in the center of the park is also in the Christmas mood as it is creatively lit up with strategically placed colored spotlights.
The Winter Fantasy runs from Nov 15th until December 28th and can be enjoyed from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Directions: Exit the Okinawa Expressway exit 10 and travel North on Highway 58. Turn left onto route 449 and follow the road until you get to route 114. Turn left on route 114 and look for the parking areas to the left.
Website: http://oki-churaumi.jp/en/index.html (English language button is at the top.)
Google Map Coordinates: 26.690599, 127.879454
The opportunities to enjoy Holiday Cheer are abundant and affordable on Okinawa. In some cases all that are needed is the willingness to beat the barracks or base housing blues and to get out and explore. Until I write my next story, I hope to see you all out making your own.