January 26th marked the beginning of the 2013 Kumejima Sakura Festival. Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) are an important symbol marking the change of seasons in Japan. As the weather begins to warm, cherry trees sprout beautiful flowers in a range of colors from white to red. Since Okinawa is so far south, cherry blossoms begin to arrive in January. They work their way north through April. During this time, people flock to areas with cherry trees to picnic, drive, and see the beautiful flowers and wildlife.You might have noticed the new header, a compilation of 3 shots taken of a Mejiro (Japanese white-eye) in cherry trees I caught the Friday before the festival along the Ara Forest path.
As part of the sakura season, many locals often have festivals to support tourism, create entertainment for locals, and to simply celebrate the beautiful surroundings. This year the Kumejima Sakura Festival took place on January 26th, a day of sun and generally great weather (I got sunburned in January. It was also a little windy.)
On Kume Island, the festival takes place at Daruma Mountain Park in the western/central part of the island. The festival was set up in a clearing surrounded by cherry trees. After an opening ceremony, new cherry trees were planted for the future. Arrayed around the clearing were many tents with local restaurants serving specialty foods. This year, the restaurants competed in a competition to see which one had brought the most popular item.
There were several live performances from local groups including Nankuru Sanshin and the “Super Bridal Band,” as well as karate demonstrations and other entertainment. The band I play with (Super Bridal Band started up a few years ago to play at my boss’s wedding, I joined a bit after moving here) just after the opening ceremony. There’s a compilation video below of our set.
After we finished our set, I quickly jumped over to the 89.7 FM Kumejima radio booth to do my weekly Haisai English! show live from the event. It was a lot of fun despite a few technical snafus from going on location.
Then, around 2:00 the Karaoke competition started up. I hadn’t planned on participating, but they wanted more people so I jumped in. For your entertainment, here is a short video of me singing “Shimanchu no Takara” by BEGIN.
There really was a lot of great food at the event. Many of the local restaurants had booths in the competition. Here’s a few of them:
There was also a tea garden run by local elementary students. Wearing Kumejima’s popular tsumugi (pongee silk) kimonos, they served green tea and small snacks under a cherry tree. Festival attendees could also try on a selection of the festive wear. There was so much food that I only tried a few of the selections, including great curry-basted yakitori (grilled chicken) and soup from Kiyose one of my favorite restaurants on the island.