This past weekend with 25,000 of my closest friends, I participated in the Naha Tug of War. This is my favorite cultural festival, mainly because it is a bonding event open to the entire community of young, old, local, and expat.
Each year, the crowds face off in a test of ultimate strength. The goal is basic. Pull as hard as you can and bring your side to victory.
In 1997, this event was recorded as the world’s largest in The Guinness Book of World Records. Woven from rice fibers, the rope takes 2 months to create. It weighs 45 tons (~ 90,000 pounds) and is 200 meters long (~600 feet). The rope stretches like an enormous snake down several downtown city blocks. Because the rope is so massive, participants pull on 200 smaller ropes attached to it. The rope is bigger than cars!
The Naha Matsuri, Tug of War Festival dates back to the 17th century. At the time, legend has it that one village had a massive insect infestation which threatened the crops. The mayor requested everyone to offer ideas to expel the insects. A very wise elderly man suggested creating a huge commotion to drive the bugs away. So villagers created a giant rope and met in the infested field with every noise making device they had. They stomped on the ground, beat pots and pans, lit torches, and chanted until the bugs finally left the area.
Today, the festival represents a commitment to the island’s unique cultural and ethnic heritage.
The day’s events begin with a parade of men carrying hatagashira, or decorative poles. One man balances the 50 kg pole erect during the procession, while surrounding men are ready with long sticks to catch the pole if it falls.
Accompanying the groups of men are children dancing and performing karate. There are also sanshin players (banjo) and strolling musicians.
There are even miniature poles for groups of little boys to carry.
I feel so fortunate that I got to participate in this amazing event, and guess what? My side won!
What’s your favorite cultural festival? Do you have a special event that makes you feel like you’re part of the community?