Pull your own for prosperity at world’s biggest tug-of-war Oct.11

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

In schoolyards across Japan during annual Sports Days, children face off in friendly tug-of-war competitions, their parents cheering them on.

Although quite a scene, these schoolyard battles pale in comparison to the Naha Giant Tug-of-War, where 15,000 competitors pull on a 650-foot, 43-ton rope in front of 270,000 spectators.

Since 1971, the streets of Naha overflow with people during this annual event, where the goal is for a team to pull the other at least five meters during the 30-minute contest.

You’ll have a chance to participate or watch this Guinness World Record tug-of-war event Oct. 11.

If you want to take part in the pull, show up at the event site before 2:30 p.m. Once there, organizers will break participants into two teams: East and West.

Legend has it that if the East team wins, those on it will have good health and happiness. If the West wins, team members will receive good harvest and prosperity. The record shows that the two teams have each won 13 times. The other 15 years has seen the two pull to a draw.

The giant rope is actually two rice straw ropes – a male and a female, both with a 5-foot diameter – that are connected right before the two teams start tugging. These mammoth ropes are actually made and stored at the U.S. military’s Naha Port Facility.

“The rope actually stretches between two blocks in downtown Naha,” said Shoken Teruya, managing director of the Naha Giant Tug-of-War Preservation Association, who said this is one of 180 tug-of-war events held yearly on Okinawa. “And it’s just as wide as a traffic lane.”

A Siren blasts indicate the beginning and ending of the competition. Once the winners are announced, the winning team can enjoy a victory dance. After that, all the participants are invited to participate in kachaashii, a traditional Okinawan dance.

One of the neat things about this tug-of-war, is participants are allowed to take a piece of the rope home with them, which is supposed to bring good luck. But don’t try to cut our own piece. Hundreds of Japanese and American volunteers (dressed in yellow t-shirts that say ‘American Chamber of Commerce in Okinawa’) have been issued small folding saws to cut off pieces of rope and hand out to the crowd.

 “The volunteers will not only cut the rope, but are also there to ensure safety and provide event information in English for foreign participants,” said Nobukatsu Miyaguni of American Chamber of Commerce in Okinawa.

 “While most of the tug-of-war events on the island are held solely to pray for good harvest and prosperity, our event is conducted for celebration,” Teruya said. “Originated in the Ryukyu Kingdom about 560 years ago, it was conducted to celebrate a king’s enthronement and the arrival of Chinese envoys.”

Although the tradition was abolished with the fall of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879, Mayor Ryosho Taira started is back up in 1971 celebrate Okinawa’s recovery from World War II. It was originally held Oct. 10 to commemorate the “10-10 Air-Raid” in 1944, the largest strike on Okinawa. Now the event is conducted on the Sunday before second Monday in every October.

“This large event is considered symbol of peace on the island,” Teruya said. “So, I hope everyone can participate in the event and that we can all pray for peace, fortune and prosperity together.”

Naha Giant Tug-of-War
Location: Around Kumoji Intersection on Route 58
Date: October 11, 2015
URL: www.naha-otsunahiki.org/en/index.html
Tel: 098-866-4858


11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Parade on Kokusai Street

2:30 p.m.
Route between Kumoji and Izumizaki intersections closed to vehicles

2:45 p.m.-4 p.m.
Opening Ceremony, karate and drum performances, joining of male, female ropes

4:10 p.m.-4:40 p.m.

4:40 p.m.
Announcement of result, victory dance

5 p.m.
Closed route reopened for vehicles

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