The Yonabaru tug-of-war on July 31 will pit the city’s east side against its west in a competition that dates back some 400 years.
The contest is the climax of the city’s summer festival, which takes place July 30-31. It is one of Japan’s largest tug-of-war contests (second only to neighboring Naha, which is one of the biggest in the world). It was initially established as a votive offering for bountiful harvests and wealth to citizens.
The rope itself is massive. It’s a meter around and weighs five tons. It would take an army to budge it, or in this case a city.
Dressed in traditional Okinawan garb, historical figures representing the east and west sides of Yonabaru stand atop the rope, which is split into two halves, and are carried through town. Assembling the rope for the tug-of-war is a surreal spectacle as both teams bring their respective halves together and finally tie a knot by using a 3-meter wooden pole to secure it into place. As soon as the wooden pole is set between the rope halves, the entire rope is dropped to the ground and in a flurry the contest begins.
Following the tug-of-war, the city puts on a fireworks display, so, win or lose, everyone is bound to be celebrating come Sunday evening.
Elsewhere at the festival, expect to find live music and a parade that will kick off festivities early Saturday. Other entertainment will include eisa dancing (a form of folk dance originating from the Ryukyu Islands), martial-arts demonstrations, adult’s and children’s sumo matches, and taiko (Japanese drumming).
The tug-of-war event is open to everyone and is scheduled to begin around 5 p.m. on Sunday, so make sure to grab a protein drink at lunch.
The Yonabaru Festival will be held at Udunyama Youth Square in Yonabaru, Okinawa Prefecture, on July 30-31. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.town.yonabaru.okinawa.jp/ootsunahiki/index.html.