Okinawa's famous dragon boat races being held this weekend

Photo by Shoji Kudaka
Photo by Shoji Kudaka

Okinawa's famous dragon boat races being held this weekend

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

It’s time again for the famous Naha Dragon Boat Race! A highlight of Okinawa’s Golden Week, this is the 45th installment of the race and will take place May 3-5.

Colorful boats made to look like dragons, each filled with 36 crewmembers, storm the Naha port to battle it out for the title of best rowers on the island. The three-day event draws around 200,000 people every year, with the excitement peaking on the final day. Many teams will compete, and some of the matchups will feature teams made up of U.S. servicemembers.

Even if you’re not participating, spectators can enjoy many fun activities including music, fireworks, vendors and more.

This is one of the three major festivals of Naha city along with Naha Tug of War in October and Ryukyu Dynasty Festival Shuri in November.

The Dragon Boat Race, or “Hari” in Okinawa dialect, has a 600-year history and used to be a national event in the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom (1492-1879). After almost a century-long hiatus, it was brought back to life and has grown into an event that represents Okinawa just like in the old days.

What makes the Naha City race unique is that each boat is big enough to require 32 rowers, two steerers and two drummers. Normal dragon boats only take 10 rowers and 2 steerers.

According to Naha Haryusen Shinkokai (Naha Dragon Boat Promotion Association), the organizer of the event, seven teams from the U.S. military have signed up this year: men and women’s teams each for the Air Force, Navy and Army, plus a team from Camp Kinser. The teams which win the first round, will then advance to the next round and have a chance to be the best on the island.

Didn’t get a chance to sign up to race? Don’t fret! On May 4, you, too, can also experience being on a dragon boat.  On that day only, visitors are welcomed to get aboard and row a dragon boat on their own for free. Sign up at the venue on the day of the event, but get there early as this is a very popular activity.

Whether you head to Naha Port to root for your team in the competition or to enjoy the festivities, don’t miss out on an opportunity to soak in some Okinawan culture.

Stuff to know
Date: May 3, 4, 5 (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) 
Time: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. 
Venue: Naha Port (GPS Coordinates: N 26.230106, E 127.680786)
* Dragon boat rides for visitors will be available between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., May 4. 
* Parking will not be available at the venue. It is advised to use coin-operated parking spaces in the neighboring area or using tours offered by organizations such as MCCS and Kadena ITT.

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