Oshogatsu - New Year
Although oshogatsu originally referred to the whole month of January, most people associate it with the first three days (sanga nichi) of the month. On these days, people go to shrines or temples, spend time with friends and relatives while drinking awamori and eating special New Year’s dishes. Throughout these days, the bustling Okinawan business community practically comes to a standstill. Throughout all of Japan schools, companies and shops close down, and trains, planes and highways are packed as millions make their way to their hometowns or other travel destinations.
Shurijo Castle Park New Year’s Celebration
Okinawa’s New Year celebrations kick off on January 1st and last until the 3rd at Shurijo Castle, one of the islands’ world heritage sites. The festival is uniquely Okinawan, taking its inspiration from the rituals and festivities of the Ryukyu empire. The celebrations include traditional chamber music and dance performances.
1 Chome-2 Shurikinjocho, Naha, Okinawa, Japan
Cherry Blossom Festival
Cherry blossoms or sakura are one of Japan’s most iconic symbols, and it is in Okinawa where the much anticipated season begins. Okinawan cherry blossoms are dark pink in colour unlike the pastel, almost white flowers of the mainland. The best time to experience the cherry blossoms in Okinawa is roughly mid-January to mid-February. Flower viewing, or hanami, can be done in all of Okinawa’s parks, but the most popular spots are Yaese Park, Yogi Park and around Nago Castle.
Okinawa International Orchid Show
The Okinawa International Orchid Show is the largest orchid contest in Japan, usually held at the Ocean Expo Park around the same time as the blooming of the cherry blossoms. Dates are subject to change, however, so be sure to check the latest news for up to date info. The orchids on display, lovingly cultivated and endlessly beautiful are divine, plus the event also hosts a range of workshops and other activities like ikebana, Japanese-style flower arranging.
424 Ishikawa, Okinawa, Japan
Color Leaf Garden Fair
Enjoy the garden full of colorful foliage at the Tropical Dream Center.
Ryukyu Lantern Festival
Beginning in the first week of December and lasting until around mid-February, the Ryukyu Lantern Festival, hosted at the Murasaki Mura cultural theme park in Yomitan Village, is a spectacular event of light and traditional Okinawan culture. The park is adorned with thousands of Chinese lanterns to create a romantic atmosphere. Under the lights, a variety of performances take place and delicious Okinawan delicacies are available to purchase.
1020-1, Takashio, Okinawa, Japan
Official website (Japanese language only)
Setsubun - "Bean Throwing Festival"
Setsubun translates to "division of seasons" and occurs in early February - usually the 3rd - each year and heralds the passing of Winter into Spring. The celebration at Naminoue Shrine is said to be among the most festive and well-attended on Okinawa. Soy beans (sometimes peanuts) are scattered about inside and outside (mamemaki) with the belief that evil will be scared away and that good fortune shall be invited in. The custom of mamemaki came from ancient China. It was held to get rid of bad luck and purge “noxious odors” of the previous year. During the scattering of beans people chant:
This event came to Japan from China during the Nara period, and become an official court event during the Heian era. It became common among ordinary people in the Edo period. People believe that by throwing roasted soy beans at the ogre and scattering them in the house removes the negative vibes, as they pray for safety of the family and good health for the year. According to tradition, if you eat the same number of beans as your age (plus one for luck), you will enjoy a year of good health. Roasted soy beans can be purchased around the time of this celebration and are called fukumame - "lucky beans". Some people decorate the entryway of their home with hiragi iwashi (head of a sardine attached to a holly sprig) to scare off trouble-making spirits.
Yaese Cherry Blossom Festival
While Nago and Nakijin may be suffering the ebb of cherry blossoms February offers an extended time to enjoy the sight and scent of those pink beauties.
Chunichi Dragons spring camp
Chunichi Dragons Pro Baseball Team Spring Training Camp – at Chatan Sports Park Baseball Field, Mihama
Whale Watching Festival
From approximately December to April each year, the waters surrounding Okinawa become host to scores of humpback whales looking for mates. Undoubtedly, whale watching is a breathtaking experience and Okinawa is one of the best places in the world to try it out. The sea around Chibishi and the Kerama Islands are some of the best places to glimpse the animals and there are a number of operators available to take eager tourists out on boats. Take a look below for two of the best.
SEASIR Naha Whale Watching tour
Cerulean Blue Okinawa
January 20th of the Lunar calendar (mid-March) heralds one of Naha's main festival parades. In the Tsuji district of Naha, renowned as the "entertainment" capital of the island, the Juri-uma Festival brings on dancers and revelry into the wee hours.
Higashi Village Azalea Festival
"Come to Okinawa and experience the spring season with Higashi Village's abundant nature and the blooming of 50,000 azaleas."
Official website of Higashi Vil.
Yaeyama Beach Opening Festival
The annual beach opening festival held on Kurojima near Ishigaki has the distinction of being the first such festival to take place every year in Japan. Travelers can sample the ever-popular Ishigaki beef, meet Miss Yaeyama and dance kachashi-syle to the delightfully raucous accompaniment of a sanshin band as residents and tourists alike celebrate on Miyazato beach. After a formal proclamation with religious and historical overtones is delivered with traditional Ryukyu flair, everyone races into the clear sub-tropical waters for a refreshing swim. While Kurojima is a half-hour boat ride from Ishigaki, the opportunity to participate in this fun-filled traditional event is well worth the journey.
Sunset Beach and Araha Beach opening
Opening schedule of Okinawa's beaches
Ryukyu Kaiensai Fireworks Festival
The earliest summer firework event in Japan, Ryukyu Kaiensai Fireworks Festival is held annually at Ginowan Seaside Park. One of the only places you’re likely to see a fireworks display on a beach, this one is not to be missed. Approximately 10,000 fireworks are launched into the black Okinawan sky soundtracked by some great music. The perfect way to start your summer in Japan.
4 Chome-2, Mashiki, Okinawa, Japan
Ie Island Lily Festival
Japan's earliest lily festival will be held at Lily Field Park on the northern coast of Ie Island. Pure white Easter lilies spreading through the fields and an additional 100 different lily varieties from around the world blooming, accompanied by stunning views of the surrounding blue sky and sea are awaiting you.
Official Iejima website.
Naha Haarii and Itoman Haarii
(Dates vary from year to year and these events may be held in May or early June.)
A Haarii Festival is a dragon boat race tied to age-old Okinawan seafaring customs. The two biggest and best of these are held at the Naha and Itoman seaports. Naha Haarii is usually held in early May, usually coinciding with Japan’s Golden Week national holiday. Itoman Haarii comes later in around late May to early June. Dates are subject to change, however, so check local listings ahead of time.
Naha Tourist Information
Itoman Tourist Navigator
Naha Harii 1990
Culture Beach Festival
Okinawa’s Culture Beach Festival is a celebration of summer, partying and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere of this tropical pocket of Japan. This May festival features DJs, live music and partying all day and night long. Held on Ikei island, it’s the best way to defrost after a winter of battling it out half nude in the snow.
Tanbo Matsuri (Rice Field Festival)
Also known by some as the "Mud Festival" this is a fun event at the Nature Miraikan Park in Kin Town. I attended in May of 2019 but have seen it being pulled off as late as July - I think that was in 2016. Kids from all around show up to literally play in the mud! It's a hoot. Games, contests, water buffalo cart rides, canoeing, art & crafts and lotsa muddy fun for everyone. One of the things that I enjoyed most was the Nagashi Somen contest. Check out 2019 Mud Festival!
Nature Mirai website
Sabani Sailing Race
This annual race is held to continue the tradition of the sabani, a traditional Okinawan sailing boat made of wood and measuring from five to 10 meters in length. The course extends for about 36 kilometers from Furuzamami Beach on Zamami Island to Naha Port. Guided by conditions at sea, participants hoist sails when the wind is blowing and row their boats when the wind dies down.
Heiwa no Ishiji - Okinawa Memorial Day, June 23
On this memorial, 234,183 names are carved. Among them are the names of 147,110 Okinawans (including soldiers and civilians), 72,907 soldiers from mainland Japan, 14,005 American soldiers, 51 South Koreans, 82 North Koreans, and 28 Taiwanese. The names listed in stone are the victims of wars starting from the Manchurian Incident in 1931 to the end of the Pacific War in September of 1945 when Japan signed the documents of unconditional surrender. Also included in this list of names are the Okinawans who died on foreign soil such as Saipan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and other former Japanese colonies. Passengers on an evacuation ship which was sunk by a U.S. submarine on the way to mainland Japan from Okinawa are also listed. Others are those who died of disease and epidemics trying to escape from the war and foreigners who died on Okinawa soil.
Peace Memorial Park, 2019
Yohena Hydrangea Garden Flower Festival
Yohena Hydrangea Garden / 1312 Izumi, Motobu Town.
Yohena Hydrangrea Garden located in Izumi of Motobu-cho town in northern Okinawa. The garden had originally been a tangerine field before its owner, Mrs. Uto Yohena started planting hydrangeas and they grew covering the whole garden.
Yohena Hydrangea Garden
The Tedako Festival takes place in late July each year as a celebration of the three great kings of Uraso. The festival involves a number of different events, including eisa dance performances, taiko drumming, a carnival and fireworks. This is one of Okinawa’s biggest annual festivals, consistently attracting upwards of 100,000 visitors each year. For updates on events and times, check the official site below.
Seaport Chatan Carnival
This is a big festival held on a beach in Chatan Town for two consecutive days. Attendees can enjoy many programs, including raft and dragon boat races, music performances, fireworks displays and more.
Seaport Chatan Carnival info.
Zoo Night at the Okinawa Zoo and Museum
Saturday nights July thru September
A popular summer event held at the Okinawa Zoo & Museum, this Zoo Night offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy animal encounters and observe their behavior after dark, which is totally different from what can be seen during daylight hours. The animal feeding experience is one of the fascinating highlights of the event.
Okinawa Zoo & Museum website