Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Photos by Shoji Kudaka ()

As the summer heats up, so does the fighting arena on the island. Check out this year’s bullfight in Uruma City on July 14.

Unlike the bullfights of Spain and Latin America, Okinawa’s bullfights are considered to be less barbaric since no bulls are killed at the events. Bouts are fought between two bulls with no matador, but the collision stirs up no less excitement than the deadly fights in Spain.

Once you set foot in the arena, you will be engulfed in the fervor of the audience. As if to pump up the mood, bulls themselves howl as they are summoned for a bout. Some huddle on the ground to let their bodies adjust to the ring, or they kick/stroke the ground to check the surface; the animals are aware of the fights that await them.

After the two bulls enter the ring, they are guided to the center of the ring. A bout starts with the bulls butting heads. Their horns are often pushed against their opponent’s neck, causing bleeding. Some bull owners even sharpen the horns before competitions. Stabbing opponents on the forehead is a common skill called “wari” or “tsuki.” The bulls’ “skills” with “weapons” along with their fighting spirit raise the stake of the bouts and fuel the excitement.

Although you will see neither a matador nor a picador in the ring, humans do still have a part to play in the bouts. “Seko” are the bull handlers and they encourage or instigate bulls to fight by chanting “heeyai” and stomping the ground. Normally, it’s just one of them that stands close to each bull, and they take turns as a bout continues. The handlers often get more excited than the bulls themselves.

The rule of the bout is very simple: If a bull escapes and abandons a bout, it loses. Leading up to that point, there will be some maneuvering by each bull trying to get the edge. While some bouts end in several minutes, others continue for more than 10 minutes, making the outcome unpredictable.

The intense bouts can take first-time visitors by surprise. Humans and bulls fighting together in the ring may remind you of the spectacles of the Colosseum of Ancient Rome, but it is a practice that dates back to the early 1900s on the island.

If you’ve never seen a bullfight, this is your chance to catch one on the island. Don’t miss out on another truly unique Okinawan experience.

Yomitan Bull Fight Date: Jul. 14 (Sunday) Time: 1 p.m. Venue: Ishikawa Multipurpose Dome GPS Coordinates: N 26.436282, E 127.825609 (Near Exit No. 6 of Okinawa Expressway) Tickets: 2,500 yen for adult (male), 2,000 yen for women, 1,000 yen for high and middle school students * Free parking space available by the dome. Arrive early, as a big crowd is expected at the venue.

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