Okinawa is gearing up for the cherry blossom season with a series of events and festivals to welcome visitors keen to witness the earliest showing of this magical display.
Thanks to its subtropical climate, the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa enjoys the earliest blooming cherry blossoms in the whole of Japan, with some seen as early as mid-January. They do not only arrive earlier but have a unique, vibrant pink colour, darker than the shades seen elsewhere in Japan.
Of all the cherry trees in Japan, the most common is the Yoshino Cherry (Somei-Yoshino) and the Yamazakura Hill Cherry, and these two species are characterised by a pale pink – almost white – colour when in bloom. Although both of these species can be found in the archipelago, the most common variety of cherry tree in Okinawa is the Hikanzakura, which has a dark pink petal.
Additionally, cherry trees in the prefecture finish their bloom differently, with their dark pink flowers falling almost intact to the ground, as opposed to other varieties, which lose their petals one by one… Okinawa offers a truly unique cherry blossom experience altogether!
The arrival of these beautiful and delicate flowers is one of the significant highlights on Japan’s events calendar, with various festivals taking place throughout the first months of the year. To help us with this guide, the Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau has provided information on some of the events due to take place on the Okinawa Main Island in 2023:
Nakijin Cherry Blossom Festival (late January)
From 21-29 January, the ancient ruins of Nakijin Castle become the backdrop of the weeklong festivities. The UNESCO-listed 13th-century castle is the second largest in Okinawa, with more than 1.5 kilometres of walls. To help as many visitors as possible to enjoy the festivities, the castle walls will be illuminated, allowing visitors to enjoy the cherry blossoms at night as well as during the day. An array of traditional Ryukyu arts and performances take place all week.
Additionally, as this is a site of great historical importance for the prefecture, guided tours are available from ¥3,000 (approx. £18) for those wanting to learn more. Further information about the event is available here.
Nago Cherry Blossom Festival (late January)
Held at the Nago Central Park, the Nago Cherry Blossom Festival is due to take place on January 28th and 29th. The highlight of this two-day event is the two-kilometre path lined with over 20,000 cherry blossom trees, a beautiful sight year-round but extra special at this time of the year. This event also presents an opportunity for travellers to enjoy the traditional Okinawan dances of eisa and Ryukyu, with performances scheduled to take place on both days. Further details are available here.
Naha Chura Cherry Blossom Festival (early February)
In February, Manko Lake Park, in the capital Naha, will host a one-day event (the date is to be confirmed) with traditional dance performances and local food stalls to welcome the blooms. The approximately four hundred trees at the park are in full bloom all month, so visitors can celebrate their very own cherry blossom festival throughout February.
The well-known Kokusai-Dori Street is within walking distance from the park and offers a 1.6-kilometre stretch of stores, restaurants, bars and sightseeing options to enjoy before and/or after taking a relaxing stroll at the park. Further details about the event are available here.
Additionally, from January to May, Okinawa also sees the bloom of a myriad of many other flowers and celebrates the Okinawa Flower Carnival, which takes place in different shapes and forms throughout the prefecture with highlights including the Higashi Village Azalea Festival, the Ie Island Lily Festival, and the Okinawa Bougainvillea Fair.
For further information about Okinawa, please visit https://visitokinawajapan.com/.
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