The seaside town of Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, is well known for its dark, sandy beaches, hot springs, giant koi carp and spectacular summer fireworks displays.
But it also holds one of the strangest and silliest traditions in the region — the Tarai-nori Kyoso, otherwise known as the Washtub Boat Race.
Every first Sunday of July, more than 200 participants frantically paddle large rice-scoop-shaped oars as they barrel down Matsukawa River inside 1-meter-wide traditional Japanese wooden washtubs.
It is as ridiculous as it sounds.
A tradition with vague beginnings, the event is believed to have been conceived in 1955 by the chairman of the Ito Tourism Association, who, according to Shingo Kasai of the association, “came up with the idea when he saw a washtub left in front of a local hotel.”
Such tubs were once used to wash clothing at the banks of the river, now they are kept by hotels for this event.
Seven races will take place, including team races, a kids race and an international one. And in the spirit of daftness, many participants don weird costumes. It’s a 400-meter-long battle of the paddle, with token prizes to be won. Because of its popularity, though, participating is in the luck of a draw. Staying at a hotel in the area, however, will automatically up your chances in the lottery, which has made the event particularly popular with tourists.
If you don’t get to race, you can still enjoy the beach and onsen and head to a riverside flea market, which will also be held on the same day.
Tarai-nori Kyoso takes place in Ito, Shizuoka Pref., on July 7. The first race is at 9:40 a.m. For more information on how to enter call any Ito hotel or the Ito Tourist Association at 0557-37-6105. For more information, visit the event’s website (Japanese only) For English information on the area, visit: www.itospa.com/tour_guide_e/index.html.