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days of old

Naha Tug-of-war

The is an event at the annual festival held in Naha, Okinawa, Japan. Its roots may be traced back to the 1600s. Held on Route 58, it is a battle between the East and West teams. This correlates with the competition between two rulers in the Naha area in days of old

The event draws some 25,000 attendees annually, and is preceded on the prior day with a parade celebration on Kokusai Street (also in Naha). In 1997 the event was first logged in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the largest tug-of-war event in the world. (reference url same as above). The rope weighs some 40 metric tons.

The festival begins with men dressed in traditional garb standing on the rope facing in opposite directions to symbolize the battle between East and West. A myriad of performances take place along the rope's length—from martial-artists of varying ages to older women performing a sort of fan-dance. It is a truly international event with Japanese nationals, American military, and tourists all in attendance. Just before the start of the match a man dressed in the garb of the Ryūkyūan kings stands on a wooden platform hoisted in the air on the shoulders of men standing on opposite sides of the rope. The "king" is carried on this platform down the length of the rope, before the festival starts.

The main rope has many smaller ropes extending from it, and the participints pull these during the contest. The contest lasts 30 minutes and the challenge is to pull the other team a total of 30 meters. Not doing so results in a draw.

After the time limit expires, it is customary for participants to take a length of the rope as a token, and so throngs of people using tools ranging from their hands to hacksaws set on the rope cutting lengths of it to commemarate the festival.

Further reading

  • The article 那覇まつり (Naha matsuri) in the Japanese Wikipedia has a section on the tug of war.

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