It’s about bloomin’ time!

Little known fact: I’m a plant killer. I’ve always thought I had a black thumb, and I warn people of this when they ask me to plant sit. But lately, even I have caught the gardening bug. Here’s my fledgling cucumber plant, with its leaves still folded up in the seed:

That sucker just won't let it go.

That sucker just won’t let it go.

Why the sudden urge to grow things? For one, produce tends to be REALLY expensive here on island. The on base grocery store (a.k.a. “The Commissary” a.k.a. “The place every military family shops at and therefore hates going to”) imports produce from the U.S., mainland, Korea, and so on. I’m pretty sure freight costs and taxes help to drive up the prices, so I thought I’d try to grow my own. I’ll post more on expensive produce later, but here’s an example of what I mean to whet the appetite (but not indulge, because these are RICH PEOPLE berries!).

Do not attempt to adjust your screen.

Where’s cheap produce from Mexico when you need it?

Do not attempt to adjust your screen. That’s $5.29 USD for a regular carton of raspberries, and $5.99 for a carton of strawberries. Out in town, the prices are comparable (if you can find raspberries around town), but to be fair, there are also deals here and there if you’re willing to spend the time to look.

And reason number two for the sudden green thumb: It’s the end of January/beginning of February in Okinawa, which marks the start of spring here. That’s right, no waiting around for a groundhog to forecast if there’ll be six more weeks of winter–it’s just OVER, baby, yeah! And if you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, check out my post on Groundhog Day in the U.S.

groundhog-day_2127217i

“Tell the audience winter is over, and no one gets hurt.”

The short winter in Oki (and it can hardly be called that, when temperatures rarely reach below 40 degrees Fahrenheit/4 degrees Celsius) makes for a pretty long growing season. The Okinawans are big on agriculture, and I’ve been told that the more cosmopolitan “mainlanders” (those who live in mainland Japan) think of Okinawa as “the country,” even though there’s quite a mix of urban and rural on island. So mixed, in fact, that what look like vacant lots in residential areas are often small fields to grow crops, like this one, in my Okinawa City neighborhood:

Oki field

So fresh and so green, green.

Springtime in Oki also means flower festivals, the most popular ones being the cherry blossom fests. Whereas the cherry blossoms in mainland are white, and bloom more around their springtime in April, Okinawa’s blooms are pink and have been blooming for a few weeks already.

cherry blossoms 1

“I feel pretty, oh so pretty. . .”

A little less popular, but equally gorgeous, are the sunflower blooms, and there’s a small sunflower festival to go with it:

No Japanese sign is complete without an appropriate cartoon.

No Japanese sign is complete without a cartoon.

sunflowers

I dare you to look at me and be sad!

And then there’s the lily festival on Ie island in April, plus azalea and orchid festivals, which I have yet to check out. I know you’re dying to know: what happens at a flower festival? Well, you look at the flowers and take pictures, of course. Yep, that’s it. Post finished.

Okay, maybe there’s a little more that goes on, but really, I think the festivals are an excuse to get outside, intermingle with others, and be in nature. And to relax, slow the tempo a little, and look at pretty stuff. The cherry blossoms only bloom for about two weeks before they say sayonara ’til next year, so they’re a symbol of the temporary nature of everything in this world, including our own lives.

"Take a picture, honey, it'll last longer. Oh wait, you did."

“Take a picture, honey, it’ll last longer. Oh wait, you did.”

If looking at flowers and taking Facebook profile pics isn’t enough of a draw, know that you can also buy food, like fried goodies on sticks (umm, YUM! Well, except the fried balls of octopus), yakisoba (stir fried noodles), plus drinks (including liquor sometimes!), and local crafts at the vendor booths during the festivals. At the bigger fests, there are usually traditional Ryukyu dance performances, maybe a tug of war.

Ryukyu dance

These ladies know how to cut a rug.

There’s often stuff for the kiddies, including carnival-type games to win prizes, toys to buy, and even giant Cartman-looking jumpy balloons.

"Respect my authoritah!"

“Respect my authoritah!”

And, there’s always something unexpected. When I went to the Nago cherry blossom festival this year, they had a small expo of antique bikes, many of which had sidecars!

Forget the flowers. Take me for a spin in this baby!

Forget the flowers. Take me for a spin in this bad boy!

And then at the sunflower fest a couple weeks ago, there was this dude, directing the foot traffic:

sunflower guy

I love a man who’s not afraid to dress up.

And how about this emcee from the Motobu cherry blossom festival two years ago?

476

The tiara means he’s the Diva of Ceremonies.

But you don’t have to go to a festival to see flowers in Okinawa. They’re everywhere, and I find that lovely. Here’s what I found just walking with my dog, Bosley, around the neighborhood.

neighborhood cherry blossomsimageimage[1]

image[2]

None of these flowers seemed to give off a smell (though I could be stuffed up–the Oki weather tends to do that to you), but I like the idea of at least stopping to appreciate them for awhile.