Hanami, or cherry blossoms viewing, is usually seen throughout Japan in March and April. This year, in Okinawa, the cherry blossoms have bloomed early–but their flowers aren’t as bright as the years before. It’s OK, though. Many festivals in honor of these beautiful, pink flowers have cropped up just as early as the cherry blossoms’ blooming. One festival that my husband and I went to was the Yaese Town Cherry Blossoms Festival.
We arrived in the latter part of the event, but we didn’t miss out on the festivities. After walking up a long hill overlooking Yaese Town and climbing multitudes of stairs (and a kind grandmother commenting loudly, “Mada?” when we encountered another set of stairs), we finally reached the top of the small mountain. The smell of corn dogs, yakisoba (sauteed noodles), and french fries filled the air as music by a local J-rock group sounded from a big stage flanked with large sakura poles.
One thing about festivals that I absolutely love is the festival food. Fatty, greasy, and cheap, festival food can range from traditional Japanese food (soba, ramen, takoyaki) to Western food (tacos, hamburgers, chicken nuggets). This time, there were a few vendors selling cheap vegetables, homemade cookies, and chicken pies.
Aside from the food, the Yaese Town festival had a treat for everyone: a tug-of-war contest. The rope was as thick as my body! It took over twenty people to carry one side of the rope in traditional fashion around the festival grounds. After some (quiet) taunting from both sides, we grabbed the ropes and pulled. It was a hard fight, but the other side managed to pull us over the line. The second time was fruitful: we won in less than five minutes.
We dusted ourselves off, carried the rope again, and then disappeared down the stairs to the cave. It was once used as a medical center for the Okinawans during World War II, and still stands as a historical reminder to all. Many of the elementary school students asked us as we exited the cave area, “Do your pictures have ghosts in them?”