Begins in 2018! The most convenient way to get to Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and Motobu.

[Things to see in the northern area and the west coast with Okinawa Airport Shuttle—a new airport express bus]

Let’s go and see the cherry blossoms by Okinawa Airport Shuttle! A trip to enjoy the earliest blooming sakura at Mount Yaedake and the world heritage site of Nakijin Castle Ruins!

Okinawa’s cherry blossoms bloom from the north to south!

Soon after the arrival of the new year, Okinawa welcomes the season for the cherry blossom. Okinawa’s sakura is known for “Hikan-zakura” (known as winter cherry blossom). The best time to see cherry blossoms in Okinawa Main Island is from late January to early February. It starts to bloom from the colder area, which means from the northern area of the Main Island first.

There are many famous sights for cherry blossoms in the northern part of Okinawa Main Island which can be visited by Okinawa Airport Shuttle!

This time, Umi the editor chose to go to Nakijin Castle Ruins and Mount Yaedake.

First, to Nakijin Castle Ruins, the UNESCO world heritage. At the intersection along the Motobu loop route, there is a signage to emphasize the highlight of cherry blossoms.

This signage is near the ‘Nakijin Castle Ruins Entrance’ bus-stop. To the Nakijin Village Gusuku Exchange Center (ticket office) you need to walk up the hill for about 1km. There is a little distance but both sides are planted with cherry blossom trees and is a good distance to walk and admire the beauty. But please be aware of the passing cars.

From near the Nakijin Castle Ruins, this is the view when you turn around and look behind. If the weather was good, surely you get to see the blue ocean beyond the cherry blossoms!!

I went to Okinawa in December so the cherry blossoms weren’t blooming yet. Please enjoy the photo of sakura that was taken last year at Nakijin Castle Ruins!!

Nakijin Castle’s special feature is the strong walls with beautiful curved masonry. It is not certain when it was built but it is believed around the 13th century. The castle was used by the King of Hokuzan (Kingdom of Northern Mountain) in the Sanzan Period (when Okinawa was divided into three polities).

Place of worship, ammonite, and cats…

The characteristic of Okinawa’s castles is that, a place of worship is built inside the premises. After being destroyed by Chuzan (Kingdom of Middle Mountain), Nakijin Castle became familiar to people as a place of worship and festive location known as the "Mitake". Still now, there are many places where constantly people offer prayers.

Nakijin Castle is located at an altitude of about 100 meters. The day I visited was on a rough weather so I saw white waves hitting the coast. I’m sure it would have been a beautiful landscape if it was a sunny day with the blue sky and the sea.

According to the excavation survey, it is known that Nakijin Castle was functioned from the 13th to 17th centuries.

Sakura trees are planted everywhere around the castle and there is also a cherry blossom avenue.

Stone walls are built with a method called “Nozura-zumi”, meaning stacking natural stones.

Rocks that are used for the stone wall are very old and some include ammonites!

Nakijin Castle Ruins is well-known for the resident cats so if you get to meet them, you are very lucky!?

At the Gusuku Exchange Center (where the ticket office is), apart from the souvenir shop there is a shop called 35 COFFEE that uses weathered coral to roast coffee beans which is limited only in Okinawa, and a popular ice cream shop by Oppa Dairy Industry. However, you can eat and drink at the Gusuku Exchange Center area only.

You can ask for the volunteer guidance at the Gusuku Exchange Center if it suits your requirement. Please ask at the ticket office.

Nakijin Gusuku Sakura Festival is held from 2019 January 26th to February 11th. During that period, it is open till 9pm and the castle stone walls and cherry blossom avenue that leads to Nakijin Castle ruins are lit with lights.

Mount Yaedake is a mountain of sakura that blooms first!

Mount Yaedake (altitude 453.3m) is the second highest mountain in Okinawa Main Island and also best known for the cherry blossom. Due to its altitude, the Mount Yaedake is the very first location to bloom cherry trees.

At Mount Yaedake, cherry blossoms start to bloom from the top of the mountain and then spreads to the bottom. There are about 7000 sakura trees all together, and trees at the sides of the road are mostly cherry blossoms.

First, I recommend to go to the top of the mountain and stroll around Yaedake Sakura Forest Park. Yaedake Sakura Festival in 2019 starts from 19th January to 3rd February. On the 19th and 20th of January, festival events are held all over the Sakura Forest Park and many booths will line up over the weekend.

Unfortunately, there is no public transportation to go up to the Mount Yaedake, only either by car rental or taxi. For your information, according to the Motobu Tourist Association, for the preservation of cherry blossom trees, 500 yen per vehicle is collected as a donation and if you are visiting by a taxi then the driver will collect the money instead.

Once you finish strolling around the Sakura Forest Park, you can go up to the top and enjoy the collaboration scenery of the landscape and the cherry blossoms. Ie Island’s distinctive Mount Gusuku looks as if it is floating in the sky! On the opposite side, you will see the Yagaji Island and Kouri Island, and furthermore the Ogimi village too.

Cars are not allowed to enter at the top of the mountain so park it nearby and walk about 10 minutes to the top. It’s worth walking!

“Yaedake Bakery” is one of Mount Yaedake’s well-known sight spots.

The shop sells breads and cookies, and is particular about whole grains and plant derived ingredients. Some products use the juice of shekwasha that is grown in the Mount Yaedake.

Natural and mild taste of the bread was an unforgettable experience and cookies with condensed delicious flavor was also great!

You also need a car to get to here, but if you get lost you can ask the shop for the direction to go to the top.

Information

◇Access to Nakijin Castle Ruins
Take Okinawa Airport Shuttle from Naha to “Nago Shiyakusho Mae” bus stop (Nago City Hall).
From the Nago city (there is also a bus stop at the “Nago Shiyakusho Mae”) get Ryukyu Bus No.65 or No.66, get off at “Nakijin Castle Ruins Entrance”. 15 minutes walk to the castle.

Okinawa Airport Shuttle
An express route bus that connects Naha Airport and Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in 2.5 hours.
Going from Naha Airport to Nago Shiyakusho Mae (Nago City Hall) takes about 1 hour 50 minutes. Reservations can be made from the website (Available in multiple languages).
https://www.okinawa-shuttle.co.jp/en/

Nakijin Castle Ruins
http://nakijinjoseki.jp/en/

◇Access to Mount Yaedake
Get on the Okinawa Airport Shuttle and get off at “Motobu Tourist Association” (or “Motobu Kariyushi Market”). Call for a taxi to Mount Yaedake.
First visit the Motobu Tourism Association and gather information for the cherry blossom season.

Motobu Tourist Association
http://www.motobu-ka.com/

Busnavi Okinawa
https://www.busnavi-okinawa.com/top
Go to their website or use their App to check routes, timetables, and location of bus stops for local bus services. Available in English, Chinese (simplified and traditional), and Korean.

Japan Taxi APP
https://japantaxi.jp/

※The content of the article is written at the end of December 2018. It is subject to change without notice.