Naha Okinawa Tsunahiki
A Centuries Old Tradition
Hop on a plane for an early morning flight out of Tokyo in early October and you can witness the excitement surrounding the World Guinness Record Naha Tug of War. It’s a once a year event where you can participate, or just watch, a crowd of over 15,000 people pull a tug of war rope weighing over 40 tons. The scene in the street, numbering well over a quarter million people, is a sight in itself.
The Naha tug of war has evolved to become a cultural event believed to bring prosperity, good health and fortune to the residents of all the Okinawa islands. The rope was first recognized as the world’s largest, consisting of natural fibers, by Guinness World Records in 1995.
There’s More to See than Just a Tug of War
The parade showcases some brilliantly colored kimonos, traditional classic dances and a dance, seen only in Okinawa, known, as Eisa. The sounds of drums, horns, gongs, firecrackers, stringed instruments and music piped over loudspeaker systems fills the avenue and like many other observers, you’re welcome to chant along with the performers. Just memorize the words “Ya sa sa” and “Hi e ya” and learn to whistle like a whippoorwill, only a lot louder, and you’ll fit right in.
Some of the other activities you see include martial arts performances by youth, dancing lion-dogs (known as Shishimai) and a Chinese Dragon Dance. One event, you may want to climb higher to witness and capture on camera, is the Parade of Flags. Young men demonstrate their strength and skill at balancing a huge bamboo pole displaying a banner representing their district in the city of Naha. Climbing some stairs or watching from a balcony gives a better view and assures your safety, should a flag come crashing down in your direction.
The World Record Tug
Opening ceremonies and a large gathering of people begin on HWY 58 around 3PM so it’s a good idea to start jockeying for your position about that time. There are speeches given, karate demonstrations, music played and more activities with village banners but, the World Record Tug is what you want to see.
Men, representing the royalty of the Ryukyu Kingdom and dressed in period costumes, climb atop the east and west sections of the rope and issue challenges. This is another good time to climb to a higher level for photography, as the crowd begins to surge closer in anticipation. If you’re there to pull, the masses will help snuggle you closer.
This is where I’ve learned to climb to higher elevations in the pursuit of a memorable photo.
The tug of war ends when a team from either the east or west side of town manages to pull the rope five meters in their direction. If neither side manages that within half an hour, the competition ends in a draw. That has happened 14 times over the years.
Excitement When the Tug-O-War Ends
Travel Light Like a Pro
Wear comfortable walking shoes.
Bring a light jacket in the event it gets chilly or rains.
A backpack is the only luggage you will need.
Grab meals at any of the several Family Marts located conveniently along the routes you’ll be taking.
Yen is the currency to bring. Taxi cabs and vending machines generally, don’t accept any other currency.
Returning to Naha Airport for a meal before flying, you’ll get excellent food at reasonable prices.