Sakura season is in full swing here on Okinawa. On January 30th 2016, I attended the Nago cherry blossom festival (read about it here). As a quick recap, the festival was great, but the cherry blossom hadn’t fully bloomed, due to an unusually cold winter. On February 7th 2016, I gave Motobu sakura festival a look, here’s my experience.
From where I live in Okinawa (an hour North of Naha, Okinawa’s capital city), Motobu is a long drive. It took around 2 hours (though this was in part due to heavy traffic), but it was worth every second. Lucky enough to get a beautiful, sunny day, I started to spot cherry blossom (let’s call them by their Japanese name from now: sakura) trees either in full or part bloom, painting the roadsides, private dwellings, valleys and mountains a vibrant pink. To get to Motobu itself, you need to drive part way up Mount Yaedake. This turned out to be a wonderful experience on its own. Sakura trees lined the road all the way up and beyond, all in full bloom, with paper lanterns laced between them, so it was easy to spot the right way to go. For anyone who hasn’t experienced mountain driving, it can be quite hairy at times! (experiences in Spain, Tenerife and India I’ll never forget in that regard!), however, the roads were well maintained, well lit, spacious and had crash barriers, making the drive pleasant and enjoyable.
Upon arriving, you drive down a long, flat road, also lined with sakura (as well as the odd stall and advertisements), park up and hop out. Everywhere you look, there are beautiful sakura, of all shapes and sizes. There’s also a nice variety of species, including the deep pink Hikanzakura, and the more familiar Someiyoshino flowers, a pale variety found throughout the mainland. The best trees can be seen here. It was a Sunday, so very busy. It was great to see all the families enjoying the show Mother Nature put on. I even spotted a large family sat under a beautiful tree having a picnic (according to my local friend, this is an unusual sight on Okinawa, with most just admiring the trees and soaking up the festival atmosphere. The only downside for me, was the combination of mud (rainfall the day before caused this) and my open toed sandals!
After a slow meander taking pictures and enjoying the trees, it was time to check out the festival. Rows of food outlets and game stalls swept through the park, banking round the main area where a pavilion had been erected for entertainment (at my time of visit, it was lively singing and dancing). All the festival favourites were there, with a huge variety of takoyaki (octopus fried in batter). Thanks to a hearty breakfast before my departure, I didn’t get to sample the food, but it looked and smelled delicious. There was also a local farmer there selling home grown produce at the entrance, he seemed to be doing quite well out of it!
The main festival area was quite sparse with regards to trees. They had a small number, but some were still bare. However, this area was quite congested (no doubt because of the food), so enjoying them at a leisurely pace would have been difficult anyway. Overall, there was a strong family-friendly atmosphere, with games, food and entertainment inclusive of all ages. There was even a ‘spotting’ game, where small children were given sheets of paper to collect stamps for spotting cute little characters hiding all over the location, a great way to keep them busy!
This event was free to park and enter, making it a cheap day out (good for big families), and had access to facilities such as toilets, a kids play area (that looked really, really fun), and was all on one level, so stroller and wheelchair friendly. Most of the food was reasonable too, starting at 300 yen for small dishes, though of course you could always bring your own and have a Hanami (sakura viewing) picnic!