MOTOBU, Okinawa — While other areas of Japan are blanketed with snow and chilled by northerly winds, Okinawa is boastfully announcing the arrival of spring.

The island prefecture celebrates the start of Japan’s earliest cherry blossom season next week in Motobu, a community in northwest Okinawa. About 2,000 cherry trees line both sides of a 2.4-mile road leading to the top of Mount Yaedake.

The mountainside region is home to 7,000 cherry trees.

The first trees were planted in the early 1960s by the U.S. commander of a former communication station that stood atop the mountain.

“About 10 percent of the trees are in bloom,” Motobu town official Naoki Miyagi said Monday. “By early February, they will reach full bloom.”

The town will host its annual Cherry Blossom Festival on Jan. 17 and 18 at a park at the foot of the mountain.

The festival includes a Cherry Queen pageant, Eisa dance performances, concerts and a tug-of-war. Last year, more than 200,000 people visited the mountain during the monthlong cherry blossom season.

An additional 260,000 viewed the blossoms in the nearby city of Nago, where 20,000 cherry trees blanket the hill leading to the ruins of Nago Castle.

The Nago Cherry Blossom Festival this year is scheduled for Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. The party features parades, street dances, the Miss Cherry Blossom pageant, a karaoke contest and dozens of booths for games and refreshments.

Cherry blossom time has been a cherished ritual in Japan since the seventh century and is revered in poetry, songs and paintings.

In mainland Japan, where the trees blossom in late March and early April, it’s a time of picnicking and partying, where the sake flows freely and everyone’s considered a friend.

The Okinawa festivals are no different, except the flowers tend to last longer. Unlike most of the cherry blossoms on the mainland, where the fragile whitish-pink petals fall in less than a week, the rosier blossoms of Okinawa’s cherry trees usually last about a month.

To attend the Mount Yaedake festival, take Highway 58 north through Nago and turn left on Highway 84. Then follow the signs to Mount Yaedake.

To attend the Nago festival, take Highway 58 north or Okinawa Toll Road to the Nago exit onto Highway 58 into the city. Turn right at the sign to the city’s business district and follow the crowd.

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