Japan’s Earliest Cherry Blossoms in Okinawa
Okinawa enjoys the first peek of cherry blossoms in Japan. The blooming of cherry blossoms signifies the advent of spring. Okinawa, the most southern prefecture of Japan, experiences a much milder winter compared to mainland and welcomes a much earlier spring. Like how Okinawa is very different from mainland Japan in many aspects, the cherry blossoms on the island have a distinct appearance. Every year around late January, bright pink cherry blossoms will slowly bloom in Okinawa, starting from the northern part of the island. Unlike the common pale pink Someiyoshino (Yoshino cherry) which most Japanese are familiar with, Okinawa’s deep pink Hikanzakura (known as Taiwan cherry) or also called Kanhizakura (Cerasus cerasoides) originates from southern China and Taiwan.
Even though Okinawa is not blessed with a wide variety of cherry blossom trees that envelopes most part of Japan, Okinawans still enjoy “hanami” – cherry blossom viewing. Many cherry blossom festivals take place in various locations around the island on weekends during the cherry blossom season. The cherry blossom season in Okinawan is divided into two stages: the Northern and Southern Okinawa viewing. Unlike in mainland Japan where the cherry blossom trees start flowering in the south, cherry blossoms first appear in the north due to the warmer climate. The flowering of cherry blossoms is dependent on ideal conditions created by the perfect combination of hot and cold weather. The wave of cherry blossoms sweeps from the North towards the South as the temperature changes gradually along the stretch of the island.
Nago Cherry Blossom Festival
Venue: Nago Chuo Park
Nakijin Castle Cherry Blossom Festival
Venue: Nakijin Castle Ruins (with night illumination)
Motobu Mount Yae Cherry Blossom Festival
Venue: Mount Yae
Naha Cherry Blossom Festival
Venue: Yogi Park
Yaese Park Cherry Blossom Festival
Venue: Yaese Park (with night illumination)
See also : Manko Cherry Blossom Festival
Venue: Manko wetlands
Kume Island Cherry Blossom Festival
Venue: Daruma Mountain Park
Usually, most people spend a weekend to travel up north to attend the “triple” festivals in Nago, Mount Yae and Nakijin Castle. While the Mount Yae is one of the best spots to view the cherry blossoms that decorate the lush greenery of the mountains, it is extremely crowded during the festival. My friends and I chanced upon a “Secret Cherry Blossom Viewing Spot” on our way to Cape Hedo. If you drive along route 58 on the way to Cape Hedo, you will pass through the Kunigami District. The area is covered by many cherry blossoms trees, which are hidden from the crowds. You can take a leisurely stroll and soak in the beauty of the cherry blossoms that is enhanced by the tranquil ambience.
The significance of the cherry blossom tree in Japanese culture goes back hundreds of years. Despite their ephemeral nature, the cherry blossoms display a spectacular show every spring. The beautiful blossoms represent the beauty and fragility of life. As the famous poet Kobayashi Issa aptly put it, “What a strange thing! To be alive beneath cherry blossoms.” What a strange but wonderful thing! To be alive beneath the short-lived cherry blossoms which are so precious because of their transience. Isn’t this a reminder to fully appreciate our lives and seize the moment - like visiting Okinawa this spring?