Okinawa Cherry Blossom Guide: Celebrating Hanami in January
21 October 2016
Hikanzakura

While the springtime beauty of Japanese cherry blossom trees is already world-renowned, few people know that in Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, explosions of pink sakura can be seen as early as January. Even more special than the timing is the fast-blooming Okinawa cherry blossom that comes with it, a type that stands breathtakingly apart from its mainland cousins. Find out what makes Okinawa sakura so unique—and explore the rugged pleasures of cherry blossom season in the tropics of Japan.


 

The Meaning of ‘Hanami


The celebration of ‘hanami,’ (the Japanese word for cherry blossom viewing), in which throngs of cheerful people gather on blankets under the cherry blossom trees, sipping Japanese sake as sakura petals flutter to the ground around them, has cultural roots stretching back into antiquity. The splendor and magnificence of the trees are thought of as a reminder of the beauty of life, while the brevity of their blossoming symbolizes life’s painful shortness and transience. Cherry blossom season is also symbolic of new beginnings, the radiance and vigor of the flowers giving license for people to dream big. Many people plan their trips to Japan just for the sake of being able to witness first hand their natural charm and inspiring beauty—a beauty that, as you’ll see below, is even more fleeting when it comes to Okinawa sakura trees.

 
Hikanzakura

Hikanzakura


While the cultural significance of hanami in Okinawa is similar to that on the mainland, the trees themselves are very different. Rather than the pale-pink, almost white blossoms of the Somei-Yoshino trees common to the Kanto and Kansai regions, the Okinawa cherry blossoms, known as Hikanzakura, are a much richer, darker pink.









 

Okinawa Cherry Blossom Viewing Tips

 

Food

Food
Over hundreds of years, little has changed in the way that islanders celebrate Okinawa sakura season; the same could also be said for mainland Japan in spring. People go out to the park with snacks and drinks, sit on blankets and enjoy the surreal, almost magical atmosphere conferred by the blossoming boughs overhead. As for what to eat, just about anything goes, but if you’re looking for something traditional, onigiri would be a good choice. This is simply a ball of rice wrapped in nori (seaweed paper) and stuffed with a flavorful morsel such as salmon sashimi, miso or tuna. Another popular choice is a traditional Japanese bento, a lunchbox with rice, some kind of meat and/or fish, vegetables, pickles and often umeboshi, a Japanese pickled plum. These can be purchased at just about any supermarket or convenience store (quality varies with price and source) and they come with their own wooden chopsticks, making them a perfect choice for an outing in the park.

If you are fortunate enough to stay at Shigira Resort on Miyakojima, however, you do not have to be content with a bento box; rather, you can dine comfortably at any one our many fabulous restaurants before taking in the splendor of the sakura right on resort grounds. Whatever and wherever you choose to eat, your experience will be all the more delicious if framed by Okinawa cherry blossoms.


 

Drink

Drink
As for drinks, again there are a wide range of choices. If you feel like alcohol, that’s just fine because in Japan, drinking is not forbidden in most public places, provided you behave yourself and take your trash with you when you leave. By far the most popular alcoholic drink is Japanese sake (pronounced sa-kay), which is generally poured from a bottle into tiny individual cups. Hanami parties are generally potluck, so if you’re the one who brought the sake, etiquette dictates that you remain vigilant about ensuring the cups of your fellow drinkers are kept full. Of course, sake is not for everybody. If beer is more to your taste, you’ll be sure to find Sapporo, Ebisu, Asahi or Orion (some of the most popular Japanese brands) on a store-shelf nearby.

Whether you prefer beer or sake with your viewing experience, local varieties abound in Okinawa. On Miyakojima, for example, “coral ale” and “coral wheat beer” are just two in a series of locally-produced beers that come highly recommended. Miyakojima also has its own local brew of awamori, a distilled rice liquor that is as strong as it is refreshing.


 

Differences Between Mainland Okinawa Hanami Viewing Parties


While a hanami parties can certainly be enjoyed in Okinawa, geographical differences with mainland Japan have helped to create some island-specific traditions.  First of all, the vast expanses of flat grassy parkland that facilitate large picnic-style parties are somewhat of a rarity in Okinawa, with most of the mature sakura trees planted along roads or paths. While you will certainly find picnic areas suitable for enjoying a bento during hanami, it is more common to enjoy Okinawa sakura while eating at a table and chairs set up by a vendor of festival foods such as okonomiyaki (sort of a vegetable pancake), takoyaki (deep-fried octopus), or more traditionally for Okinawa, yagijiru (goat soup). You can often buy alcohol at such places, too, but the choices will generally be limited to beer and chu-hi. The locals will tell you that the best way to savor the cherry blossoms in Okinawa is to sit down and eat first, then meander slowly along the winding roads and mountain paths on which they are planted, taking in the commanding views of the ocean as you go.

 

Okinawa Cherry Blossom Trees Capture Life’s Beauty and Brevity

 
Okinawa cherry blossom trees are deeply woven into the cultural, historical and philosophical fabric of the islands—and so breathtaking that you will want to take photos to preserve the singular experience of seeing them in bloom for a fleeting moment. Of course, if gorgeous natural scenery is what you’re after, then the season is no object in the tropics. In fact, there are no shortage of photo-perfect year-round views just on Miyakojima alone. Whether or not you choose to stay at Shigira Resort in the future, we hope you enjoy the natural splendor on display.


 

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