Okinawa Festivals and Events – Your Year Round Guide
Okinawa is more than just sun, sea and sand. Fantastic festivals and events take place in Okinawa year round and we've got the lowdown on all of them.
Okinawa is both physically and culturally apart from the rest of Japan, possessing its own unique character and charms. Despite being incorporated into the Japanese nation in the 17th century, the Okinawan islands take great pride and influence from their Ryukyu empire roots. The islands act, therefore, as a great place to get away from Japan without leaving the country.
Unsurprisingly, great numbers of Japanese and foreign tourists do just this every year. The beauty of the weather, beaches and nature, plus the abundance of unique experiences the islands promise is difficult to underestimate. What’s more, year round, distinctly Okinawan festivals and events take over sections of the islands and always prove to be a huge hit with locals and visitors alike. From the New Year festivities in January to the marathon in December, whenever you find yourself in Okinawa, you won’t be too far from something special.
Keep reading for a year round rundown of Okinawa festivals and events, starting with a brief overview and followed by all the vital details. For more Okinawa ideas, also take a look at our guide to the top 20 things to do in Okinawa.
Okinawa Festival Calendar
For a quick look at the festival and event lineup in Okinawa throughout the year, browse the calendar below.
|Month||Festival/Event (start date)|
Shurijo Castle Park New Year’s Celebration, Cherry Blossom Festival, Okinawa International Orchid Show
|February||Ryukyu Lantern Festival|
Whale Watching Festival
|April||Ryukyu Kaiensai Fireworks Festival|
|May||Naha Haarii and Itoman Haarii|
|August||10,000 Eisa Dance Parade|
|September||Itoman Great Tug of War|
|October||Naha Festival, Shuri Castle Festival|
|November||Tour de Okinawa|
1. 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.
8:30 – 17:00
2. 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.
18:00 – 22:00
Official Website (Japanese Only)
3. 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.
4. 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.
8:30 – 17:30
¥ <690 (Adults)
5. 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.
6. 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.
15:30 – 20:30
7. Naha Haarii and Itoman Haarii
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.
8. Tedako Festival
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.
9. 10,000 Eisa Dance Parade
Eisa is a traditional Okinawan dance style performed to pay respects to ancestors. The dance stems from local folk songs and customs and is still performed along to the beat of taiko drums. The first 10,000 Eisa Dance Parade was held in 1995 on the first Sunday of August and continues to take place on the same day each year.
10. Itoman Great Tug of War
This unique festival is held to pay tribute to the gods of good harvests and fishing. Events take place on the 15th of the lunar calendar, normally around late September to the beginning of October, throughout Okinawa but Itoman City’s is among the best. An 180 meter long rope is spread along one of the city’s main roads flanked by two teams of more than 10,000 locals and visitors. The teams battle it out for up to 30 minutes until a winning side becomes clear. Updates on the date and time for the event can be found on the official site below.
11. Naha Festival
The largest festival in Okinawa, Naha Festival is held annually in October on a public holiday coinciding with national health and sports day. As part of the festival, a variety of traditional and contemporary Okinawan performances are put on including live music, parades, taiko drumming and eisa dancing. It is also host to a tug of war event that is recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest in the world.
12. Shuri Castle Festival
Another important festival at Shuri Castle held at the end of October each year. The traditional event is a celebration of Ryukyu culture with its highlight as a vibrant parade through the castle grounds. Entry into the castle is subject to admission fees.
Starts from 11:00
13. Tour de Okinawa
Towards the end of the year, as the weather becomes cooler, Okinawa turns its attention to sports. One of the most popular events is the Tour de Okinawa, a long-distance cycling event modelled on the Tour de France. Taking place since 1986 in Nago City, hundreds of cyclists compete for the number one spot. This year the race will be held on November 7th and 8th.
14. Naha Marathon
Held at the beginning of December, Naha Marathon is another major sporting event in Okinawa. The marathon began life in 1985 to celebrate the friendship between Naha and Honolulu, the Hawaiian capital. The marathon is open to all but runners must register in advance.
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