Cherry blossoms are a sign of spring so you might imagine my surprise when I saw them blooming the other day as I came down a mountain road on Yaedake. Knowing that Yaedake is known for having the first cherry blossoms in all of Japan I could not resist so I pulled over and started snapping away.
Being that it is only late December this was a rare sight. The blossoms are not supposed to show themselves until at least mid January but here they were all around. It is said by the locals that when the cherry blossoms bloom that means we have seen our coldest day of the year. Being that it is so early in the winter I hope that this is not the case. I would like to enjoy a few more cool days before the summer returns.
If you would like to view cherry blossoms you can do so all over the island of Okinawa but remember there is no set time that they will bloom and there’s no saying how long they will be around. Some say that is what is so special about cherry blossoms.
For a number of Americans the holidays just aren’t the same here as they are in the US. There are, however, some things that can give you a little taste of the holidays while here in Okinawa. One of these things is referred to as “illumination” but you might call it a “christmas light display”. These can be found all over Japan and there are various that happen here in Okinawa however this year I returned the Itoman Peaceful Illumination, where I went last year.
Located in the southern part of the island this illumination features over 600,000 lights in various forms. Last year there was a large eagle, this year there was a spectacular huge tent of lights as well as an ocean of lights on which a Japanese style ship was sailing. Everyone of all ages can enjoy this illumination. Young and old stare at the lights in awe.
The highlight of the night is when all of the lights are shut off for a moment and spectators can see just how bright the lights are. Then as the entire crowd counts down the lights go back on and everyone enjoys the rest of the evening. There are food vendors which gives this a matsuri feel as well as pony rides and live performances.
Admission for the event is 200yen and prices vary for other goodies such as hot cocoa, cotton candy and corn on the cob. For me this is a great place to come each and every year. It puts me in the holiday spirit. The event runs at the end of December through the new year which is perfect for those of you who want to add a taste of home to your holiday here in Okinawa.
One of the biggest celebrations on Okinawa (and probably throughout most of Japan as well) is New Years. One of the many ways that you can celebrate the closing of the current year and ring in the new one is to visit one of many illuminations that are hosted on the island. Illumination is basically Japan’s code word for “lights display” and personally I think it sounds better but that’s just me. These illuminations are from north to south, some free others will cost you a small entrance fee. This year my husband and I decided that we would go to the same illumination that we went to last year, Itoman Peaceful Illumination.
We walked through the 600,000 lights taking photos and enjoying ourselves but on our way out we noticed something interesting. In the distance we noticed a large light shooting up straight into the sky. It was amazing how bright this light was and it was coming from somewhere rather close so we put our heads together and made the decision to investigate. We found ourselves at the Peace Prayer Memorial Park. For those of you who do not already know Peace Prayer Memorial Park is basically just want it sounds like. It’s a large piece of land which Memorializes much of what was lost during the Battle of Okinawa and encourages people to learn from the past therefore praying for peace. (I will talk more about Peace Prayer Memorial Park at another time for those of you who are interested in visiting.)
Once we parked our car it was clear to see where we were supposed to go as the path was lit with paper lanterns. It led us to the Cornerstone Of Peace. At the end of the path is a flame which burns brightly for peace and just behind it was the most stunning light shooting up into the sky. This was clearly what we were looking for.
Now I realize that to some five beams of light don’t seem to be that big of a deal but the location is dark. Below you can hear the ocean pounding away on the cliffside. The only light is coming from the beams as well as the flame. You can also hear the trickle of the water which comes from the pool of water which represents the oceans of the world below the flame.
Looking back the view is very different from what you would see during the day. Large zig zag monuments fill in the dark spaces between the paths which are barely lit by footlights. The look and feel reminds me of what it’s like to be on stage. You know the house if full but can’t see much more than the outline of the audience.
As I am sure you might imagine the experience was poetic for me. Everything was so simple but so effective. I would certainly recommend this for anyone who is in the area! This is free and open to the public. It’s simple to find as well. The only other thing I can say is that the photos don’t even do the experience justice.
One of my favorite things about Okinawa is that there seems to be something interesting around every corner. This became evident yet again yesterday as I was driving down route 8 heading home. I happened to see something out of the corner of my eye and immediately thought “you’ve got to turn around and see what that is”. Of course it could have been absolutely nothing but it happened to be something pretty interesting.
Camera in hand I pulled over to the side of the road put on the hazards and ran down a set of old style stairs to find a beautiful little spring. Now, admittedly at first glance this didn’t look like much but once you got down in there and took a look around it seemed very interesting in deed. The first most mentionable part is that the water was coming out of the rocks and has clearly been flowing for a while as it has made paths in the stone. Between the sound of cars going by you could also hear the lovely sound of the water trickle.
Places like this are always interesting to me especially when they are tucked away in hidden places that you may have driven by day after day and never noticed. I feel like I often say that I have driven past a place many times and never seen something but it’s 100% true. I wonder how many people pass this place and never stop to see it or even notice that it is there at all. Of course to be completely honest this is not a huge tourist attraction or anything. I was there for a total of about 3 minutes but all that being said the reason that I love sharing these things with you because I feel as though on your way to here or there you can see so many interesting things.
Check out the video here!
Almost everyone who comes through Okinawa is familiar with the shisaa. They come in many shapes, sizes and can be found in either pairs or by themselves. It is common for some nowadays to think of shisaa as good luck charms but this is not exactly the reason that they are around. Overall the shisaa is a protector. There are a lot of stories which I will save for another day but at a time they were most commonly seen on the roof of a house, not necessarily in pairs. This particular shisaa was placed in a location (different from where it sits today) facing a stone which was said to spit fire and therefore to prevent natural disasters in the area the shisaa was placed facing it. There is no date on the shisaa and like many other things throughout Okinawa it can not be exactly determined when it might have been constructed but it does seem as though it is in the same fashion of the shisaa which are located in the kyuuna area. I have not yet talked about those shisaa in a video but I will be sure to cover them in the future.
The current location of this shisaa is in a small park which is located in the Kitanakagusuku area. The park is beautiful and holds a few different historical areas although at this time I am not entirely sure of what each one is. After walking up a large set of stairs into a large coral stone area you can feel as though you are in the middle of the jungle.
The park has a number of tombs and monuments although we did not venture to one of them because it was too overgrown. Signs mark the direction of each area as well. On a beautiful day this is a great place to get away for a brief moment and enjoy the sun but it is also a great place to see some history as well.
Below all of the tombs, water way and everything else in the overgrown area you can see that there is a large grassy area as well as a sandy area which is more likely than not used for gate ball. Benches also are set throughout the park for people who are wondering through to sit and enjoy the area. Although this is a great place to see this is not a park which is dedicated to kids, at least not kids who enjoy jungle gym equipment.
There are a few things to remember when visiting this park. First and foremost the roads leading to this park are small and you should use extreme caution to ensure that you are able to safely get where you need to go. I do not recommend bringing large SUV type vehicles to this location as you may encounter trouble. Also as with many other places of this type please have a great deal of respect for the area and the residents who are in the immediate area. I understand that when one uses the word “park” it can mean something different to some then it means for others. This is the type of park where you walk through rather than the type of park where you play ball. If you have the chance to check it out and if you want to see some history you will love this location.
Getting off island doesn’t have to mean booking a plane ticket or arranging a sitter for the dogs. There are a number of interesting islands to visit off the coast of Okinawa that you can drive to and be back before the kids get home from school.
Yesterday per a suggestion from RyukyuMike I headed out to Senaga Island. This island is just south of the Naha Airport and although I have driven past (like many other things on Okinawa) hundreds of times it never crossed my mind to take the turn and check the island out.
Senaga island is not a big one. In fact you might not even see it if you were not looking hard enough. Once you cross the bridge to get to the island you will see that there is a large park where you can sit down, enjoy the day and even have some snacks from a few different shacks and even a Blue Seal!
The park also has baseball diamonds and seems to be the perfect place for some summertime fun in the sun. There are also areas in the shade which make it a good place to rest too.
The highlight of the trip, however, was the planes. If you like to watch planes or if you have kids who love to watch planes this should be on your must see list while here on Okinawa. You can lay on the grass and enjoy the take off’s and landings of the very many planes who transit through the airport daily. Some of them also seem so close it’s amazing. I surely will go back and maybe next time bring a nice packed lunch to enjoy in the sun!
Where in the world can you find a place where when the rubber hits the road. . . . . the road actually sings? In Okinawa that’s where. On a small stretch of road off route 331 some genius (as far as I am concerned) has found a way to cut grooves in the road to make it so that when you drive over at just the right speed of 40kph you can actually hear a song. I honestly can’t say much more about it because you have to experience it to truly understand how fascinating this is. Below I have a video which is just brief and again it doesn’t do it real justice.