桜 or さくら sakura are cherry blossoms. Here in Okinawa, sakura are a bit different. For one, they start at the end of January (the rest of Japan starts in mid-March, April or even May usually). Second, they are usually a different species of sakura, called kanhi zakura 寒緋櫻 (also known as hikan-zakura), which actually from Taiwan and southern China– instead of the cute fluffy pink, they tend to be a darker shade of pink. Still pretty, but not quite as voluminous and dramatic as sakura on the Japan mainland. Third, our sakura blooms start NORTH to SOUTH! On mainland Japan, the sakura wave starts in the south (warmer weather) and slowly makes it way to up north (Hokkaido has blooms in May!). But here in Okinawa it is reverse, our trees actually start blooming up in the northern part of the island and gradually spreads to the south. A bit strange.
So sakura season tends to be a bit of a different feeling here. That being said, my first spring here, the blossoms on my university street were towards the end of their blooming period and along came a gust of wind, showering me with petals as I walked along. Seriously, I thought that only happened in anime and drama?!
People here still eat some sakura sweets, like sakura mochi and sakura ice cream, and the stores will be inundated with sakura related products and foods during this time of year.
Sadly I have not had a chance to visit the Japan mainland during sakura season. Yet. Hopefully next year I will have some time.
Keep in mind sakura trees are all over and you do not necessarily have to go to a crowded place to enjoy them. Really, I like to simply enjoy some on my campus during lunch hours! You may even spot several hills or small parks with a few trees– pull over and enjoy them without the crowds. You can even enjoy sakura at night!
However, there are some larger festivals in Okinawa for sakura-viewing (Hanami 花見, literally “flower watching”); here are some places to check out:
North: usually in bloom end of January, early February.
Nago: it is pretty enough, but definitely full of Americans. Park at the fishing port and walk up. Traffic here is awful, so go early and just be prepared. Park here: https://goo.gl/maps/Cnx9hzTWd2z then walk here: https://goo.gl/maps/4rdkPQHyof12
Nakijin Castle Ruins: Very pretty with the castle ruins as a backdrop. Everyone should try and see this site at least once. Traffic is still not great up here since it is a popular site, and also wear decent shoes. Usually there is a stand with sakura ice cream. 沖縄県国頭郡今帰仁村今泊5101 https://goo.gl/maps/1McvvaonwGt
Mount Yaedake: Probably the best location in my opinion– natural scenery, mountain-scape. There will be traffic but if you go early you will not deal with as much. 沖縄県本部町並里921 https://goo.gl/maps/GMFbfT13Rnt
Naha Yogi Park: Early-late Feb. parking in the area is not so easy, so you may have to find a pay lot and walk. 沖縄県那覇市与儀1-1 https://goo.gl/maps/GAFEfWKJwSk
Manko Park, Naha: Mid-February. A nice park to walk around. https://goo.gl/maps/UjyV2t79xHx
Yaese Park: Very late January to mid-February. Another nice park and a light-up in the evenings. 沖縄県八重瀬町富盛1637 https://goo.gl/maps/9YJQkpR83H42
**Missed sakura the first time around in Okinawa? Here is your second opportunity to see a special type of sakura located in Motobu (North) during mid-March into early April: Kume-no-Sakura: クメノサクラ