Check out the Naha Hari Festival dragon boat races May 3-5

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Check out the Naha Hari Festival dragon boat races May 3-5

by: . | .
18th Wing | .
published: April 30, 2015

Spring is here and Naha Port will soon be filled with the sound of cheering spectators and the rhythmic beat of a metal gong.

Women’s and men’s teams composed of 32 rowers will board long fiberglass boats painted to resemble mythical seafaring dragons. Sweat and seawater will drip from their brows as their oars chop up the murky waters. Although the race lasts about five minutes, it will seem to last forever for those who will physically push their bodies to the limit.

This is the annual Naha Hari Festival dragon boat races.

This 40-year tradition traces its origin to 13th century China and the tale of Kutsugen, a war hero who committed suicide after being falsely accused of betraying the Emperor. Saddened by the news of Kutsugen’s death, the Emperor held a dragon boat race in his honor. The King of the Ryukyu Islands was moved by this story and decided to hold dragon boat races on the island that would become today’s Okinawa.

Every May 3-5, Naha Port plays host to the dragon boat races, or “hari” which cap off the Japanese Golden Week holidays.

Spectators cheer on as approximately 50 teams battle it out to see who is the fastest. Several teams are composed of men and women of U.S. Forces Japan. As in the past decade or so, this year USFJ will again participate in the race fielding Army, Navy and Air Force teams.

Like local teams, many are training hard for race day right now. Some may still be looking to fill their rosters to enter the race. Do you have what it takes?

Have yourself a 'hari' experience

With more than 200,000 visitors annually, the Naha Hari (Dragon Boat Race) is the island’s biggest such event, held at the Naha Shinko Terminal for three days on May 3-5. Admission is free.

Compared to those in other areas, Naha boats are colorful and bigger, featuring a dragon figurehead on the bow and its tail on the stern – a reminder of the elegance of the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The large boats can hold 32 oarsmen, two bell ringers, two helmsmen and six other crewmen, offering a impressive view of teamwork during the race.

Displaying not only the fruits of the tireless practice of each team, the racing venue also hosts a wealth of entertainment including live stage performances featuring local singers and dancers, contests and more with fireworks to end the day. The festivities also include dragon boat rides, games and a plethora of food and vendor booths selling local fare and crafts.

- Naha City Tourist Association