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NAGO, Okinawa — Okinawans will be seeing red — cherry red — this weekend at cherry blossom festivals in the northern part of the island.

Well, the color’s actually a bit more pinkish than red, but the festivities are in full bloom as Japan’s first cherry blossoms of the year are beginning to bloom. Okinawa officials say more than 40 percent of the island’s cherry blossoms, called sakura, are showing — just in time for the 46th annual Nago Sakura Festival.

The festivals began last weekend just north of Nago, where the 30th annual Motobu Yaedake Cherry Blossom Festival lasts until Feb. 10. It takes place the same time as the first-ever Nakijin Castle Cherry Festival, also on the Motobu peninsula.

The most popular festival by far is the Nago event, which begins at 11 a.m. Saturday in the heart of the city and runs through Sunday. More than 20,000 cherry trees blanket the hilltop ruins of Nago Castle, and the festival attracts more than 270,000 people annually.

The fun starts with an opening ceremony at 11 a.m., followed by a brass-band parade of local children and Eisa dance and folk song performances from 4 to 6 p.m.

On Sunday, a costume parade is scheduled for 2 p.m., followed by dance performances at 5 p.m. and a parade of taiko drummers at 7 p.m. Games and refreshments will be available from dozens of booths at the bottom of the hill.

On nearby Mount Yaedake, about 2,000 cherry trees line both sides of a 3.4-mile road leading to the top of the mountain. The first trees were planted in the early 1960s by the U.S. commander of a communications station that once sat atop the mountain.

Cherry blossom time has been a cherished ritual in Japan since the seventh century and is a time for picnicking and partying, where the sake flows freely and everyone’s considered a friend. It’s a time revered in poetry, songs and painting.

The Okinawa cherry blossoms last longer than their cousins on the mainland, which bloom in late March and early April. While the fragile white-pink petals fall in less than a week in Tokyo, the rosier blossoms on Okinawa usually last about a month.

How to get there

To attend the festivals, take Highway 58 north or Okinawa Toll Road to the Nago exit onto Highway 58 into the city. For the Mount Yaedake and Nakijin festivals, pass through the city on Highway 58 and follow the signs to the festivals. For the Nago Sakura Festival, turn right at the sign to the city’s business district and follow the crowd.


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