Service members, families watch bouting bulls in Uruma City
URMA CITY, Okinawa - The sound of roaring spectators resonates throughout the arena as two behemoths clash in a duel of butting heads and brute strength.
The audience, consisting of service members, families and Okinawa community members, watched a series of bouts during the Uruma Bullfighting Festival Oct. 20 at the Ishikawa Multipurpose Dome in Uruma City, Okinawa.
The event afforded Marines and their families an opportunity to experience a unique aspect of the rich traditions of Okinawa.
“This is my first time in Japan,” said Gunnery Sgt. Joel B. Newport, an operations chief with Combat Logistics Battalion 4, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “I have never seen a bullfight like this before, so it was pretty interesting.”
Traditional Okinawa bullfighting, or Togyu, is a spectator sport.
Unlike bullfighting in other cultures, Togyu does not permit overly violent actions between the bulls, and strict rules are in place to ensure the safety of the animals when in the ring, according to Mark Wayaster, a tour guide with Marine Corps Community Services Okinawa.
The event consists of numerous bouts in which two bulls struggle against one another head-to-head, each looking to gain an advantage by overpowering the other. The bull that maneuvers and strikes the other on the side first is declared the winner of the round.
“Each bull has a coach in the ring with them to ensure the animals safety during the fight,” said Wayaster. “Most people think that these animals are highly aggressive. In reality, they are not. When not in the ring, they can be compared to a family pet and are very docile.”
Although the matches are played out for the enjoyment of spectators, the safety of the bulls remains paramount.
“If the bulls get cut or hurt during a fight, the match will be called off right away,” said Wayaster.
Bullfighting has been a part of the culture of Okinawa since the mid-19th century and started with villages hosting the events for entertainment and competition, according to Wayaster. In the present day, Okinawa is one of the few prefectures that still honors the tradition of bullfighting.
“Bullfighting became so popular in the 19th century that the Ryukyu Kingdom put a law into effect that allowed one bullfight per three villages,” said Wayaster. “It stayed very popular until the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 when the sport was temporarily stopped. It has again become very popular.”
Bullfighting has come to symbolize more than just a form of entertainment for the people who regularly attend the exhibitions.
“Today’s game has been a lot of fun to watch,” said Arare Kameyama, a spectator at the bout. “I love coming here so much that sometimes I even help the trainers out with the bulls by looking out for both of their safety in the ring.”
The match provided entertainment for all who attended and left Marines and their families with a newfound appreciation and understanding of a part of Okinawa traditions, according to Newport.
“I would highly recommend this to other Marines, especially those who are here accompanied,” said Newport. “It is a lot of fun to just get out and experience the culture.”