Should You Bring The Kitchen Sink?

CONTRIBUTED BY JOELLE YAMADA

So the Powells & Kelly want to know about the Sakura (Cherry blossom) Festivals which are supposed to happen next weekend (25/26/27 January).  And since I’m going to Okuma for next weekend, I do to!!  But I’m very frustrated because I can’t find specific info related to THIS year. 

However, here is a collection of info I found this morning sprinkled with lots of stuff on last year’s festivals.  Hopefully it will help some, but what I’m really counting on is that some of you will know more than me and help us out here!

From Shizuko’s Japan Travel Blog: Cherry blossoms have begun to flower in Okinawa. Yaedake Sakura Matsuri at Yaedake Sakuranomori Park in Motobu Town is known as Japan’s earliest cherry blossom festival in the year. It’s held from Jan. 19 to Feb. 11 this year.

From Japan Guide: Full bloom (mankai) is usually reached within about one week after the opening of the first blossoms (kaika). Another week later, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms are falling from the trees. Strong wind and rain can cut the blooming season even shorter.

More from Japan Guide: Hanami literally means “flower viewing”, however, it commonly refers only to cherry blossomviewing. Cherry blossom viewing is easy: Simply enjoy the intensity of the many blossoms by looking at a single tree or a group of trees. From a distance, the trees appear as beautiful clouds, while the beauty of single blossoms can be enjoyed from a close distance.

Hanami can be just a stroll in the park, but it traditionally also involves a picnic party under the blooming trees. Hanami parties have been held in Japan for many centuries, and today are held in public and private gardens and parks across the country. In especially popular places it is common practice to reserve a picnic spot long before the party is held. The typical praxis is to spread one’s picnic sheet early in the morning and either mark it with the group’s name and party’s starting time or to have somebody positioned there during the whole day until the rest of the group arrives after work.

From Schauwecker’s Japan blog: Okinawa’s dominant cherry tree variety is the Hikanzakura (not to be confused with the Higanzakura) with deep pink blossoms. It differs in several ways from other cherry tree varieties found across Japan.

We visited two of the most famous cherry blossom spots of Okinawa Main Island: Nago Castle Park and Yaedake on the Motobu Peninsula. Only a few of the trees in the Nago Castle Park already had their blossoms opened. We were a few days too early. The cherry trees stand along the stairs leading up the hill, on which Nago Castle was once located. Today, a shrine and public park remain.

Yaedake is a mountain on the Motobu Peninsula. Hundreds of cherry trees line the road, which leads up the mountain for several kilometers. While several of the trees were already in full bloom, the peak of the hanami season was also only just about to commence.

From Okinawa Tourist Info from last year: This year, Naha’s cherry blossoms are expected to be at their peak around the beginning of February, and enjoyed for about 2 weeks.  As Okinawa’s Taiwan cherry blossoms bloom from North to South, there is still a chance to enjoy the graceful rosy-pink flowers, even if you have missed the flowers of Northern Okinawa. Yogi Park, where the festival will be held is located in central Naha, only 15 min. away from Naha Airport. It is a fine place for a little stroll as there are nearly 400 cherry blossom trees along the river.

From 2Camels: The festival itself has many highlights including all sorts of delicious food, games, rides, parades, folk music, concerts, folk dancers, flower displays, kimono shows, religious ceremonies and a beauty pageant.

A winding path of over 700 stone steps leads you up to the Nago Castle site. The path is lined with beautiful ishidoro or stone lanterns. About half way up the path you will find a Torii Gate and a Shinto Shrine providing a lovely place to rest and either take pictures or videotape the scenery.

For a festival at Shuri Castle.

Directions from Japan Update last year & other info: The Nago Cherry Blossom Festival is pretty much an all-day excursion,partly because of the walking, viewing, eating and listening to the music,but also because of the traffic. We noted before the traffic is heavy,because you’re not the only one wanting to see the cherry blossoms. Takethe Expressway north to its end, at Kyodo, just south of Nago. Follow thetraffic to Central Nago, then again as it turns right to Central Park. Werecommend you park well away from the festival site, both for reasons ofcost, but also the ease of getting away when it’s time to go home. Therewill be many parking areas with people trying to get your attention to park.

From the bases, plan on at least one hour travel time to get there. Don’tforget to have the little ones make their potty breaks before leaving home.

To visit Mount Yaedake, follow the same route, but instead of turning rightat Nago Central Park, continue north another kilometer to Prefectural Road84. Turn left, then follow the English language signs toward Ocean ExpoPark until you see a sign pointing to Mount Yaedake.

21 COMMENTS

  1. According to the magazine “This Week On Okinawa”, there will be a Motobu Town/Mt. Yae Cherry Blossom Festival starting Jan. 15th-early Feb. and a Nago Cherry Blossom Festival Jan 29 and 30th. I am assuming from that that we should atart seeing the blossoms up north around the 15th. Hope that helps.

  2. Thanks for re-posting this info for us newbies to the island! I’ve been waiting all year for Cherry Blossom season here on Okinawa! I went to the festival on Mt. Yaedake today (Jan. 24) and had a fun time. Photography is my hobby, so I got a lot of nice shots up there today. The directions were easy enough to follow, the traffic was terrible going up the mountain as mentioned, but I did get a nice parking spot right in the middle of the action in a small grass lot for free. The only thing I was disapointed in was the ammount of flowers – there were a TON of trees lining the whole drive up there, but hardly any were really in bloom yet. I guess January 24 is still a little early? The trees that did have flowers gave me some good pics, but I wasn’t really able to get the full effect of the full pink trees lining the roads. I think I may actually take another drive up there next weekend or the weekend after in hopes that the trees are in full bloom then – I can tell it will be absolutely breath-taking when they are!

  3. We went with Kadena Marina last weekend. The boat only holds 12 people at the most, but the guy knows where to go to see some whales. He has been doing this for 25 years.
    I have to admit that the voyage was rather on the rough side and even one Marine? got sick and fed the fish. The only way I kept from doing the same was by driving the boat. It was great of the skipper to let me do that.
    Unfortunately the whales love to hang out in rather choppy waters.
    The Captain said that the Japanese boats hang out more to the south. I am not sure if that will make a difference with how rough the water is.
    I do know their voyages are shorter and that might be the reason they stay closer.
    I would try ITT, but I don’t think the 2 year old would enjoy it much.
    Daniela

  4. Diann, I called Kadena Marina and they WON’T take kids under 5 on their Whale Watching tours — so I guess not very friendly… I wonder about ITT or other tours…

  5. I went to the Nago festival with a tour group from Kadena AB, so I did not have to worry about parking. There were plenty of people there, but it definitely was not overcrowded. There were lots of food booths-( pick your own live shrimp and have someone throw it on the grill, sake, roasted corn, funnel cakes, yakitori, squid, chicken nuggets and fries, ice cream, strawberries, baby candy apples, curry, soba etc) and carnival games (about 300 yen a pop) There was a stage and then the main street was blocked as well. As far as walking, there was a stone staircase leading up the hill lined with paper lanterns and dotted with cherry trees. It was a pretty walk. There are over 700 stairs to climb – that is fine, but my 2 year old wanted to be carried after about 300. My arms are feeling it today! The tour guide said that as of yesterday, Mt Yae had better flowers. I saw many trees with lots of buds, so I am guessing that the Nago trees would be even more impressive in a week or so. Although the festival would no longer be in full swing, I imagine you could still climb the hill and then find tasty treats to eat in one of the many restaurants in Nago.

    On a totally unrelated note, has anyone ever taken a whale watching tour? If so, are they child friendly (my kids are 7 and 2)

  6. Joelle, when we were driving home from Mt. Yae we saw signs for Nago Festival parking. We didn’t try to find it, but we figured it was around there somewhere.

    Diann, how was the Nago festival? Was there a lot of people and was getting there crazy with traffic? Were the trees scattered and you were able to just walk around and enjoy them?

    Kelly L

  7. We went with ITT to the festival yesterday, and I believe it was on the outskirts of the Nago central park. It was right around the corner from the Orion brewery- if anyone is headed out that way today. (I believe the parade is today) Many of the trees were actually still in bud, so even though there won’t be stall after stall of carnival games, yakitori and octopus you should be able to enjoy blossoms until February 11 or so.

  8. Oh, how I wish I could answer that question, Kelly L. I’ve been dreading getting home and having to let you all know that I couldn’t find it. A festival, I mean. We came from the Aquarium in the AM to Nago to go to the festival (around 4pm) and so none of the directions were too helpful cuz we were going backwards. So anyway, we got into Nago and hit a closed off street (guy waving us to turn) but then on our attempt to get back to that area saw signs for Sa-ku-ra (my slight character recognition helped) and so followed THOSE signs which took us to the Caslte Ruins AREA (which I figured was fine cuz there was supposed to be a festival there too)– but I stress AREA because we never saw the ruins and never saw anything but 3 little booths with cotton candy, etc. We were waved up the mountain to drive past some trees, but the road eventually dumped us out in NOWHERE. I’m embarrassed to say we eventually found ourselves on the EAST side of the island. Sigh.

    So I’m bummed. AND feel incredibly stupid that we couldn’t see the “mass of people and traffic” that I had expected. No festivals for us this year — good thing we did the Yaedake drive and loved that.

  9. Beautiful!!! We went to Mt. Yaedake today. So worth the trip! Today was not the most beautiful of days in Okinawa, but the cherry blossoms made up for that. The festival was the same as any other festival with food and games to play. There was a little park at the end of the road with all the booths. My kidos had fun and I had the time to take plenty of pictures and closeups of the flowers. Then we got back in our car and headed up the mountain. I had the desire to walk up the mountain and take in all the beauty, but I knew my kidos would never make it. We drove up, but stopped several times for me to get out and take pictures. The view from the top of the mountain was amazing and I’m sure it would have been even better with nicer weather. We plan to go back on a nice clear day.

    What were the other festivals like?

    Kelly

  10. Did the Mt Yaedake drive yesterday. It was great with the little kids in the car cuz they just pointed and oohed at the beautiful blossoms all the way up! Wanted to mention that on the way back down, there is a chance pretty early on to turn right onto “Prefectural Highway 84” — we decided to take a chance and sure enough, 10 minutes down a litttttle road, we came out on 84 — much closer to Nago than where you get on the road heading up to the Mt. Did that make sense? Anyway, the blossoms were AWESOME — hoping Nago will be as good this weekend.

  11. We went this weekend to do the tangerine picking and to Mt. Yae cherry blossom festival. The tangerine picking was so much fun. The kids really enjoyed it. We stopped at the first sign we saw (it was an orange that had a face and was dancing). It was a right turn off the 84 and then the driveway was on the left about a block. It cost 250 per adult and child and then they charged us for every kilogram we picked. That was also 250 yen. We filled the bag about 1/2 full thinking that it was around 2-3 kilo. She weighed it and it was almost 5! We were a little surprised (but honestly if I could include a picture it is a ton.) She then put it in a plastic bag and we were on our way. There were a ton of bushes to pick from and they were really deliciouse!!
    After that we kept heading down the 84 to Mt. Yae (its short for Yaedake or something like that). It was a left turn off the road and was already really beautiful. I would say that next weekend would be the prime time to see it! If you wait any longer you may miss it (I know last year we tried the first weekend in Feb, but because of all the rain there wasn’t much left to see). The road is really curvy and there is places to stop along the way and take pictures. However, our van took a beating from those trees! If you are a 2 car family and can take the not so nice car I would recommend it. Both were great experiences and the tangerines we are going to go do again this weekend (seriously our kids are eating them like crazy! Each ate 5 yesterday and they have both had 3 already today. Well worth the price!)

  12. I have been to the Nago Cherry Blossom Festival at least twice when we lived here before. One time we went early thinking it was a early festival and found that most stuff was not open until after 12 noon and the parade didn’t start until after 2pm but I can’t remember if we were there on Sat or Sun and if one day was better than the other. The nice thing about going early was the ability to check out the entire park from top to bottom before the crowds hit. We didn’t have to hike the whole thing because the castle road was open still and we parked near the top to check out the sites. Later on we moved near the bottom for the festival so we wouldn’t get stuck parked at the top.

    Second time we went right around when it started and still had no problem finding parking or dealing with traffic. It really wasn’t that bad for us. Can’t remember if it was Sat or Sun that time either. I am not sure if they do the parade both days or not.

    I am planning on taking a couple of friends up there this year on Sat as they are moving off the island soon and have never been to it. I am hoping the trees will be in full bloom because the few from the top of the castle steps over all of those trees is amazing. There are about 20 thousand trees in that area.

    One note: Please don’t get offended if you are trying to find a parking lot and you are in a van and the owner puts up the crossed arm X sign….it is not because you are a Y plate, it is because your vehicle is big. The smaller the vehicle the more they can fit in the lots and the more money they get. I know a lot of people think that the parking lots are not letting them in because they are Americans, but it isn’t that, and you don’t want thinking like that to ruin your day.

  13. The playground area at Nago Central Park is pretty neat. If you’re going to be up there anyway it’d be fun to stop by but the crowds may make it a pain to get to.

    I was up there last year the day before the festival started and never actually made it up to the park since the road was closed and we couldn’t figure out the alternate route. Not sure if it was closed for the festival, for construction, or to ward off horrendous traffic jams during the viewing season. I had heard from a friend who actually made it up to see the trees that they hadn’t really bloomed yet at the time and to wait a week or two for better viewing.

    Unfortunately the kids got sick the following weekend and hubby was on call the other so we didn’t get back up there till 3 weeks later. Perhaps my standards were too high having caught peak bloom at the Mall in DC but by the time we got up there I was quite disappointed. Many of the blooms had come and gone and I thought it was pretty dismal. Personally I wouldn’t wait too long to go see them. We would go up this weekend but alas the hubby is on call again! 🙁

    Here is the link to last year’s post on the park. Looks like there have been some changes to the directions though judging from the comment section.
    http://www.okinawahai.com/2007/02/nago-central-pa.html

  14. Oh Joelle, I just looked on the home page today b/c I was wondering about all this too – total luck. That info was probably just posted today b/c I check the site pretty regularly. No problem. I’m excited to check this out – maybe on one of OUR holidays (like President’s day in Feb) that the Japanese do not have. Hopefully that won’t be too late. we plan to do something next weekend, but I might be discouraged by crowds at Nago…

  15. Venture Magazine (grab it anywhere on Kadena) has lots of cherry blossom festival info. My neighbor told me they went to Nago last year and there “weren’t as many trees as [they] thought there would be,” so they were thinking Shuri this year. Has anyone done any of these before and have a recommendation of one over the other?

    Thanks for posting this!

  16. Thank you so much for posting this. I am really hoping to get some good info, suggestions, and pointers for this. I really want to do it, but I want to ensure that we enjoy it too. If we are fighting with too many crowds and craziness, then it will be hard on my kidos. Me too, I guess. 🙂 I am thinking we may try to do the Mt. Yae festival. Has anyone been to that one?

    Thanks again!

    Kelly

  17. This Week on Okinawa has an article on the cherry blossome season and festivals (only reason I picked it up). Mt. Yae Cherry Blossom Festival is from Jan. 19-Feb. 11. The more than 7000 cherry trees blooming along the road make it resemble a pink snake. Temporary food stands line the road and once at the summit you can see the east china sea and motobu peninsula. This is in Nago close to Ocean Expo Park. If you go North on 58 and turn left onto 84 you will see the sign marking the entrance to Yaedake. If you get to the 449 you have gone to far. Follow the arrow on the sign and dthe site will be on your left.
    Nakijin Castle Cherry Blossom Festival
    Jan. 19-Feb. 10. Entrance fee is 400 for adults, 300 for kids. This is off the 505 on rt 105 (no directions, just a map and I have no Idea where either road is).
    Nago Cherry Blossom Festival is Jan. 26 & 27 at the Nago castle ruins. There is a parade, miss cherry blossom contest and other events. However, there is also no directions for this festival. Kadena ITT is doing a tour to one of them. Maybe call them for directions. The Nago one sounds fun!

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