Visit Okinawa in spring!

Enjoy viewing cherry blossoms at the World Heritage site of Nakijin Castle

Map of Okinawa
The deep pink Taiwan cherries

Although it is mid-winter from January to February in the rest of Japan, the tropical Okinawa islands enter their cherry blossom season in late January. The Taiwan cherry blossoms are known for being bell-shaped and deep pink in color. Cherry blossoms bloom when the temperatures are low during a fixed time of the year, so they start to bloom in Okinawa in the northern part of the main island, and go on down to the southern regions.

Cherry blossoms at Nakijin Castle
(C) Nakijin Tourism Association

The Taiwan cherry is in bloom from half a month to a month, and cherry blossom festivals are held throughout Okinawa from late January to February. A highly recommended festival is the “Gusuku (meaning “castle” in the Okinawan dialect) Cherry Blossom Festival”, where you can enjoy viewing cherry blossoms at a World Heritage site (January 23 to February 7, 2016 – admission: 400 yen).

Nakijin Castle has a long history that is said to go back to the thirteenth century. Nakijin Castle, which is surrounded by beautifully curved solid walls, is located at an altitude of about a hundred meters and is known as the protective castle of Yanbaru (the northern part of Okinawa’s main island). It was registered as a World Heritage along with Shuri Castle in 2000.

Cherry blossoms lit up at night
“Gusuku Hana Akari” candles are lit up at night and create a surreal atmosphere. 6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (C) Nakijin Tourism Association

Events that let you enjoy beautiful cherry blossoms along with the unique culture of Okinawa such as Ryuku (the former name of Okinawa) dances are held at the squares in front of the Heiromon Gate and the Nakijin Village History & Culture Center during the Nakijin Gusuku Cherry Blossom Festival.

The Nago Cherry Blossom Festival (January 30 and January 31, 2016) at Nago Castle Park (in Nago City), which is a popular spot for viewing cherry blossoms along with its roughly twenty thousand Taiwan cherry blossoms, is also a popular event. There are many stalls that serve Okinawan dishes that you can enjoy as you view the cherry blossoms along the roughly two kilometer-long walking path.

The stairs leading to Nago Castle
The stairs that lead to Nago Castle are also lined with cherry blossoms. They are also lit up at night with lanterns from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., from January 23 to 31.
The liveliness of the walking path

The various flowers of Okinawa that you will want to see when they are in full bloom

The period between January and May is the season where you can enjoy various kinds of flowers in Okinawa – starting with Japan’s earliest-blooming cherry blossoms. There are also many events themed on flowers held throughout Okinwawa.

The “Okinawa International Orchid Show”, which is filled with orchids from across Japan and around the world

Orchids of the world
(c) Okinawa International Orchid Show

The “Okinawa International Orchid Show” (690 yen admission*) is held every year at the “Tropical Dream Center” in Ocean Expo Park, which is famous for its Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. It is one of the largest orchid contests held in Japan, with 27,353 pieces shown by 413 participants from five countries and one region in 2015. Many orchids are scheduled to be presented in the 2016 show (January 30 to February 7) along with events that visitors will be sure to enjoy such as those where you can make corsages and have a try at Japanese flower-arranging.

*Receive a discount on admission by presenting a ticket to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

An orchid corridor
An orchid arch(image) (c) Okinawa International Orchid Show

The “Higashi Village Azalea Festival”, where you can see fifty thousand azaleas in full bloom

Colorful azaleas

The “Higashi Village Azalea Festival”, which is the earliest azalea festival held in Japan, has been held since over thirty years ago in Higashison (or Higashi Village). Higashison is located in “Yanbaru” (the northern part of Okinawa’s main island), which is an area with an abundance of nature. About 50,000 azaleas are in bloom in the “Azalea Garden of the Villagers’ Forest” (300 yen admission), which is the main site. There is also a wide variety of events on the weekends from March 4 to 21 in 2016 including nature tours and marathons (admission required).

Enjoy Okinawa in spring to the fullest!

The average temperature in Okinawa from January to February is around 17 degrees Celsius (62 degrees Fahrenheit), which is warm enough for just a thin coat. This makes it perfect for activities to enjoy in the great outdoors. Be sure to take this opportunity to try new things that can only be experienced during this time of the year!

The “Yanbaru Tour”, which lets you experience the fresh green of spring

Enjoy in the fresh green on a canoe
From three year-old can take the canoe tour if they are accompanied by adults

February is the month of fresh green in Yanbaru. The canoe & sea kayak tour, which is enjoyed together with the density of the gentle green here, gives you a taste of the Okinawan spring. If you stick your hand in and wait as you hold on to the roots of a Burma mangrove, which is a mangrove that grows at the mouths of the rivers in subtropical regions, baby river shrimps will start to gather around your hand.

A Burma mangrove
A Burma mangrove trees and Burma mangrove flowers

See traces left behind by ancient people at the Valley of Gangala

The Valley of Gangala in Nanjo City, which has forests rich in nature, was formed when a limestone cavern collapsed hundreds of thousands of years ago. The tour (2,200 yen), which lets you experience the mysteries of nature and the human history through a massive banyan tree, caves, stalactites that are believed to have been objects of faith for ancient people, the sites where they lived, and more as you stroll through the valley, includes audio guides in English, simplified and traditional Chinese, and Korean.

Banyan tree roots
A café made with the use of a cave
The relaxing “Cave Café”

TEL: +81-98-948-4192 (Reservations are required. Calls can be accepted in English.)

The flowers and activities for isolated islands to enjoy on Ishigaki Island

Be sure also not to miss activities on the isolated islands of Okinawa, which has 160 large and small islands. The Yaeyama Islands, which are located at the southernmost area of Japan, are particularly popular. Ishigaki Island, which is the gateway, can be accessed directly from places such as Tokyo and Osaka. There are over thirty one-hour round-trip flights a day to and from Naha Airport.

Ishigaki Island is known for its beautiful coastline that includes Kabira Bay, which was rated three stars in the Michelin Green Guide, and has rare flowers that you definitely would want to see.

The observation deck at Banna Park
Banna Park with a panoramic view of the island
Rare flowers on Ishigaki Island
The “Ryukyu Asebi” (left) and fabled “Seishika” flowers

Banna Park on Mount Banna, which is located at an altitude of 230 meters (754 feet), is known as the “park in the mountains overlooking the sea”. In addition to the Taiwan cherry blossoms, the adorable little urceolate “Ryukyu Asebi” flowers are in full bloom from January to March in this park that makes good use of the natural landscape of the area. In March, you may also be able to see the fabled “Seishika” flowers, which are an endangered species.

A tour of an isolated island from Ishigaki Island is also recommended. It is about ten minutes by high-speed craft to Taketomi Island, which has a traditional Okinawan townscape with houses that have red-tiled roofs and white sandy beaches. Furthermore, it is only about forty minutes to the Iriomote Islands, which are filled with subtropical jungles.

An old folk home on Taketomi Island
Taketomi Island with a view of Okinawa’s natural beauty
Crossing the sea with a water buffalo cart
There is a relaxing route to the Yubu Island from the nearby Iriomote Island by water buffalo cart
Trekking
Trekking in the Iriomote Island is another popular activity. Beginners can also enjoy themselves as there is also a course that is only thirty minutes-long.

Okinawa in the spring is a place where you can enjoy various types of flowers and activities. Enjoy the earliest spring in Japan to the most with a plan that suits you the most!

The “Multilingual Contact Center” – reliable when in trouble

Okinawa Prefecture has a “Multilingual Contact Center”, which is a telephone service for visitors from overseas. It is available in English, Chinese, and Korean, and provides services including tourist information for Okinawa. The services are free of charge and require only telephone call rates. See here for details.