News: Okinawa blooms with cherry blossoms
Story by Lance Cpl. Courtney White
NAGO, Japan - The streets of Nago Central Park were filled with music as members of the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band serenaded the attendees of the Nago Cherry Blossom Festival.
Every year cherry trees begin to bloom, and from January to February visitors from the island as well as tourists from off island come to appreciate the awe of spring.
The first cherry trees on the island of Okinawa were planted by school children in 1928 at the Nago Castle site. Since then, school children have planted cherry trees annually — now an estimated 20,000 trees cover the area.
Nago, the largest city in the northern part of Okinawa, is best known for the earliest “sakura,” Japanese for cherry blossoms, and “hanami,” Japanese for cherry blossom viewing in Japan.
Nago hosts the Nago Cherry Blossom Festival annually in Nago Central Park, attracting more than 270,000 people.
Entertainment for the festival varies each year. Past festival highlights have included cultural performers, such as taiko drummers and Eisa dancers.
This year’s entertainment was provided by the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band.
“The festival was a great experience because it put the Marines on display within the community and shows a softer side of the Marine Corps,” said Cpl. Eric N. Gonzales. “It felt great to be able to experience the Okinawan culture with its community members.”
The band performed really well, said Mayumi Uenishi, a spectator at the event.
“The festival was a good opportunity for those who do not get to go to a concert to hear their music,” said Uenishi.
In addition to the entertainment, the streets were filled with food vendors and carnival games.
“The food at the cherry blossom festival is impeccable,” said Chris D. Majewski, lead tour guide with MCCS Tours+. “There is everything from lamb to jerk chicken. It is one of the better festivals on island for food.”
The millions of pink blossoms create an incredible backdrop for all the festivities, said Majewski.
“The blossoms are only in bloom once a year,” said Majewski. “You have to be aware of their season of bloom if you are interested in seeing them.”
The hanami is a tradition which dates back hundreds of years and represents the end of winter and the beginning of spring and new life.
Though the Nago Cherry Blossom Festival took place late last month, the cherry blossoms are usually in bloom for about two weeks in early February depending on the weather.