You wouldn’t participate in a Jenga game that is, say, a 100 feet tall? Would you? Or like a horseshoe that weighs 50 pounds? Well, Okinawa’s side of Naha cranked the game of tug of war into the highest level. I, along with 277,000 people, participated.
A rope of over 656 feet (I’ll let you imagine that for a second……….) made from rice straw was recorded in Guinness Book of Records as the longest rope made from natural material. Every year since 1997, Okinawans together with tourists around the globe get a hold of this mighty rope weighing 40 tons. We all joined to witness the festivities and the pulling of the rope.
As soon as it started, it was chaos. Movements everywhere. There are parades. Fireworks being lit. There are these 30-foot banner poles (hatagashira) that were being raised. “Ha ii ya” was enthusiastically being chanted. People were running towards the rope. You plan to come to this event, better prepare to bustle with the crowd. This ain’t for the squirmish. I hang to the rope tightly, as well as my belongings and camera. It was a beautiful chaos.
Keep in mind that Naha’s Great Tug of War is actually considered as a festival. There were other things to enjoy such as karate demonstration, dances, children playing music, fireworks, hatagashira contest, a ball dropping, kings’ battle, and more. All these were done before the war between the East and the West.
The side that pules five meters wins. Originally in China, the tug of war decides which between two religions, Buddhism or Taoism, is more superior. In old Japan, it was to determine which fishermen and farmers get the good luck for bounty. Today, it is used to be held for health and prosperity – to give thanks, to pray for rain, and to keep away disease for those who participate.
Let the game begins…
The crowd acts on the whistles of the leader, conductor or director. Together we chanted “Ha ii yah”.
Pulling the rope was tiring. I love it when you can actually feel the rope moving to our end. We were all getting smushed around. We got blisters on our hands. I spotted a good number of unmatched sliippers on the ground. My voice was a little hoarsed. I was sore the next day. And all I can think of it is that this succeeds all the events I’ve ever gone to.
To me, in the end, it was no longer about how ridiculously big and excessive the rope is anymore. It’s the scene of the crowd, our enthusiasm, the cultural aspect, the friendly competition, the rhythms and chants, the excitements… This really is THE best event ever!
Now which side won? Duh, we did! The East has won the West. The exhaustion, the energy and all of our motivation paid off.