The perfect blossom is a rare thing…

Hello Everybody,

I know it’s been a while since I posted a blog…life goes on in it’s wonderful way. But last weekend I was determined to do something that I look forward to every year. For the past two years in the middle of January, I drive up to Nakijin-jo beyond Nago and view the sakura (cherry blossoms). Last year, I also added the Tropical Dream Center to the list where I could go and be surrounded by orchids.

So that was the plan, but sitting at a traffic light next to the Nago Fishing Port, I was rear-ended by a local woman, which needed to be reported, since everything is a potential international incident. My morning was spent completing forms from various police agencies and returning to base to be checked out. I was okay but there went my Saturday and I did not want to go back the next day.

I was feeling enterprising yesterday however and I set my alarm and off I went. There is something so wonderful about making a thermos of coffee, grabbing an onigiri (rice ball filled with salmon, my favorite) and my ipod and hitting the road.

cat guard
Gatekeeper – She was making sure no one passed without their ticket. She was the sweetest guard I ever met.
first sakura
Okinawa sakura is a deeper pink and arrives earlier than Japanese sakura.

I have been to Nakijin-jo four times now, and I can never seem to get there the same way. It is a winding drive up a hill naturally as it is a castle and castles need to be situated to see any attacks coming with plenty of time.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of many in Okinawa, but this is the second largest of all the castles, Shuri-jo is the biggest, of course. Back in the day, around the 1400s, there was the Sanzan period where Okinawa was split into three nations – Hokuzan, Chuzan and Nanzan.  Nakijin-jo (-jo means castle or the place) was the home of the Hokuzan king. Well, in 1416, Sho-Hashi who ruled the Chuzan kingdom attacked Hokuzan and ended up unifying all three nations, creating the Ryukyu Kingdom.  That was your cliff-notes version of Okinawa history, but I think it is important to understand the people here are proud of their ancestry. They are not Japanese, they are Uchinanchu and this culture is their own. It is always a pleasure to walk around these grounds to gain a sense of history, a sense of understanding.

Amazing sakura, with a sweet inviting smell.
bees on sakura
Honey bees were collecting pollen, note the bee on the left he has been working hard with his little pockets of pollen on his legs.

Nakijin-jo is not only lovely for the historical aspect, but to see Nature’s first display of Spring, the sakura.  I am not the only one who enjoys this, since the sakura bloom first in Okinawa, there are many tourists who want to enjoy this uniquely Japanese event. The sakura here is a deeper richer pink which I initially confused with plum blossoms. I have since learned the difference. But the Japanese sakura is a much lighter and delicate pink and evokes something different from me. All beautiful, just different, like Uchinanchu and Nihonjin.

On Mainland they enjoy Hanami, which is basically a picnic with friends under the trees. Sakura viewing here is like a college football weekend in the South.

I also happened upon this lovely little bird I first encountered in Fukuoka, the Mejiro or Japanese White Eye (thank you Marta for telling me the names) in the plum blossoms. There were several of them lighting on the branches, but it was overcast and I only noticed them when the sun came out. When the sun disappeared, so did they, I was watching.

mejiro in sun
Mejiro in sakura – This little bird, also called the Japanese white eye, appeared when the sun came out and disappeared when the clouds rolled in.
nose in a flower
Mejiro seemed to be giving the bees competition in collection of pollen.
little mejiro in sakura
If you look closely, you will see the pollen dusting his beak.
steps up nakijin
Stairway to the higher enclosure at Nakijin-jo is lined with cherry trees. The trees are lit from below and allow viewing at night.
nakijin with sea
UNESCO World Heritage Site – Nakijin-jo from above. The East China Sea is was showing off its lustre in the sunlight.

After a few hours it was time to move on to the Tropical Dream Center which is located on the grounds of the Chiraumi Aquarium. I decided to forego the aquarium since I observed the proper tourist etiquette of going once.

It was time for the orchids, to me the loveliest of all flowers. And yes I adore all flowers, but orchids are special to me in a way I don’t even understand.

Here are a few of the flowers I enjoyed there. I should say for anyone that lives here, it is only 790 yen for the Tropical Dream Center and 400 yen for Nakijin. A lovely day for less than $12.

velvet pansies
Velvety pansies – they are my university colors, so I had to represent.
pink edged phalaenopsis
Phalaenopsis, my favorite of all the orchids…
orchids in sunlight
That one in the top right appeared to be grinning at me…
boy in the flowers
Lost in a land of flowers – he was actually running around, his mother was calling to him and he was laughing. His mother showed up, a little worried. I pointed him out and he was laughing, it was a good game for him.
purple venda in sunlight
Vanda – quiet, sweet-smelling and unobtrusive
purple tulips
Tulips lined the grounds outside.
blue rock thrust
This is the ubiquitous bird of Okinawa, the blue rock thrush. Like most thrushes, it has longer legs and can run quite fast.
duck at the flower show
A Japanese pond with a duck reflecting upon itself.

So I think I will wrap it up here…I have a few ideas for upcoming blogs here in Okinawa as I am not planning any long trips for a while. Sorry it was so long between blogs, I am definitely thinking of something with the onsen culture as that has become my new obsession!

Take care of yourselves in the cold weather and drive safely!