The Earliest Cherry Blossom Viewing in Japan! All You Need to Know about Okinawan Sakura Events 【2016 Edition】


Publication date: 2016/01/18 Last updated: 2016/05/20

Okinawan Sakura
Cherry blossoms, known in Japanese as sakura, are one of the iconic flowers of Japan.
Warm and humid Okinawa is the first prefecture in Japan during the year when cherry blossoms start to bloom.
But the blossoms here are different from regular cherry blossoms in many ways.

In this article, we’ll be introducing the secrets behind Okinawan cherry blossoms.
And after that, we’ll introduce some events where you can enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms yourself!

Table of Contents
1. Okinawan Cherry Blossoms are a Little Different than Honshu Cherry Blossoms
2. 2016 Cherry Blossom Festivals in Northern Okinawa
3. 2016 Cherry Blossom Festivals in Southern Okinawa
4. Events in Okinawa Concurrent with Cherry Blossom Season
※ All events have been updated with information for 2016.

1. Okinawan Cherry Blossoms are a Little Different than Honshu Cherry Blossoms

1-1. Characteristics of Okinawan Cherry Blossoms

In Japan, when you say ‘the season of cherry blossoms’, most people would tell you that it’s at the beginning of April. Pale pink flowers bloom for what seems like infinity.
Somei- yoshino
↑As you can see in the picture above, the flowers are characteristically a pale pink close to white.

However, cherry blossoms in Okinawa are a bit different.
First, they start to bloom in January. On the island of Honshu, this is the coldest time of year with great amounts of snowfall, but this is actually the time of year in Okinawa when flowers start to bloom.

Next is the color. They are a somewhat darker pink, almost as if they were mixed with red.
The small flowers like bells bloom continuously along the branches of the trees.

okinawa february

1-2. Type of Okinawan Cherry Blossoms

Why are they so different?
That’s because they’re a different type of cherry blossoms than the kind you usually picture.

What most people picture as cherry blossoms is the Somei-Yoshino tree, whose pale blossoms blooms in the beginning of April.
The cherry blossoms in Okinawa are a different kind, called Hikan-Zakura.

The warm and humid climate in Okinawa isn’t well-suited for the growth of Somei-Yoshino trees.
But Hinan-Zakura is a kind of cherry tree perfectly suited for soil in warm and humid environments, and can be found from southern China to Taiwan.

1-3. When and Where do Cherry Blossoms Start to Bloom?

Around the last week or so of January, the Yanbaru area in northern Okinawa is first to bloom. Cherry blossoms need some amount of cold in order to bloom, so the blossoms actually start to bloom from the north, then spreading into the south.

So the first place in Japan for cherry blossoms to bloom is northern Okinawa!

2. 2016 Cherry Blossom Festivals in Northern Okinawa

・The 38th Motobu Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival

Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival
The Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival, which celebrates the first cherry blossoms in Japan, features about 7,000 real Hikan-Zakura trees from the entrance all the way to the mountain peak. On the weekends, it holds events like the Hero Show, and is crowded with people who come to see the blossoms.

Period: 1/23 (Sat) ~ 2/7 (Sun)
Venue: Yaedake Cherry Blossom Forest Park
Entry: Free
Parking: Available

・9th Nakijin Gusuku Cherry Blossom Festival

night view of Sakura
This event is held at the Nakijin Ruins, which are a registered World Heritage Site. At night, the lit-up cherry blossoms and the castle ruins together are spectacular.

Period: 1/23 (Sat) ~ 2/7 (Sun)
Venue: Nakijin Ruins
Entry: Adults 400 yen, elementary/junior high/high school students 300 yen, kindergarten and under free
※ Group discount available (10 or more people)
Parking: Available

・54th Nago Cherry Blossom Festival

Okinawa Cherry Blossom
At the Nago Ruins, you can see cherry blossoms in full bloom, and the view looking down from the observation deck is one of the best you’ll ever see. This vast site is the leading spot for viewing cherry blossoms in Okinawa.

Period: 1/30 (Sat) ~ 1/31 (Sun)
Venue: Around Nago Castle / Nago Crossing and Sakura Park / Nago Fishing Port
Entry: Free
Parking: Available

3. 2016 Cherry Blossom Festivals in Southern Okinawa

・10th Yaese Cherry Blossom Festival
Yaese Cherry Blossom Festival
A famous event on the south side of the island. While viewing the nearly 500 trees that grow inside the park, if you climb to the top of a long staircase you can see an incredible view of southern Okinawa at night.

Period: 2/7 (Sun)
Venue: Yaese Park
Entry: Free
Parking: Available

・Naha Cherry Blossom Festival 2016

Naha Cherry Blossom Festival
A cherry blossom festival in the easy-to-get-to Yogi Park, nearby Heiwa Avenue and Kokusai Avenue. During this time, the Hanagi-ichi market is also open, where they hold a craft fair and presents of seedlings.

Period: 2/10 (Wed) ~2/14 (Sun)
Venue: Naha, Yogi Park
Entry: Free
Parking: Unavailable

4. 4. Events in Okinawa Concurrent with Cherry Blossom Season

・Kumejima Leisure Walk

Kumejima Leisure Walk
A walking event held on the island of Kumejima, where you can pick one of three courses that best suits you. In addition to the Hikan-Zakura, you can also see Kumekurenai, a camellia flower unique to Kumejima. This event lets you fully take in the beautiful sea surrounding the island, as well as Kumejima’s unique nature.

Period: 1/23 (Sat) ~ 1/24 (Sun)
Venue: Throughout Kumejima Island
Fees: Adult, one day: 1000 yen 2 days: 2000 yen
Students: One day: 500 yen 2 days: 500 yen
Parking: Kumejima is mainly accessed by ferry

・Okinawa Flower and Food Festival

Okinawa Flower and Food Festival
A huge two-day event that aims to have an attendance of 150,000. With a flower and vegetable exhibition, a total of 159 groups will be participating in the industry exhibition corner and seafood market. On their official website, they’ve put a lot of energy into counting down the days until the festival starts!

Period: 2/6 (Sat) ~ 2/7 (Sun)
Venue: Ounoyama Sports Park
Entry: Free
Parking: Available
Official web site

・Okinawa International Orchid Show

Okinawa International Orchid Show
This is not a sakura event, but this is one we’d like to recommend.

This is a high profile event, as the largest-scale orchid contest in Japan. It opens every year in the beginning of February, and nearly 10,000 orchids are on display.

Because this event takes place at just the same time as the Motobu Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival, tourists can enjoy both on a visit during this time of year. If you’ve had enough of cherry blossoms, how about sampling the beauty of orchids this time?

Period: 1/30 (Sat) ~ 2/7 (Sun)
Venue: Ocean Expo Park Tropical Dream Center
Entry: Adults: 690 yen Elementary school students: 350 yen 6 and under: Free
Parking: Available



And there’s your introduction to Okinawa’s cherry blossom festivals and related events. Okinawan cherry blossoms might be a little different than what you usually picture when you think of ‘Japanese cherry blossoms’. But we’re sure you’ll come to love their vivid colors and shapes. If you get the chance, come meet the earliest blooming cherry blossoms in Japan!

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