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Dragon boats in water for Naha Festival

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2011-04-29

The festival season is about to begin.

With prayers for safety and good luck, hundreds of men, women and youngsters will clamor into dragon boats next week to participate in the Naha Haari Dragon Boat Festival. The 37th annual festival kicks off Tuesday at Shinko Wharf in Naha, building to a Thursday crescendo with the main races.

Dozens of 14-member teams will man the oars and stroke their way across the bay to the cadence of the boat masters’ drumbeats. The colorful boats have an Okinawa history, participants in fishermen’s festivals calling for rain to improve the fishermen’s luck. The dragons were thought to lure clouds and rain as they dueled in competition on the water. When the tradition shifted to Okinawa centuries ago, the haari’s appeal was tweaked as a call for fair weather and good fishing.

Opening ceremonies are set for 10 a.m. Tuesday at the festival site adjacent to the near downtown Naha City. From the ceremonies and performances on Tuesday, to the final fireworks on Thursday the 5th, thousands of foreigners and Okinawans alike will join in the season’s first major festival.

The three-day festival runs 10 a.m. ~ 9 p.m. Activities Tuesday and Wednesday include a sumo tournament, plenty of live musical performances, adult preliminary haari race heats, and even stand up comedians. Karaoke, children’s shows, and entertainment mix with dozens of food and beverage booths and carnival midway games and amusement activities throughout the three days.

Fireworks begin at 8:40 p.m. each of the three evenings.

Eisa kicks off the Thursday festivities at 10:30am, the same time as Haari main races get under way. Racers don their gear and hit the boats throughout the day, with racers covering a variety of categories, including military teams pitting the U.S. services against each other and the Japanese Self Defense Forces. Entertainment runs throughout each day and evening.

The Naha Haari final race is at 4:45 p.m., and fireworks wrap up the festival.

The Naha Haari Festival is free. To reach the festival grounds, travel south on Highway 58 past Camp Kinser, turning right at the Aja Port sign. Proceed west to the main traffic light, where there’s a big building with a round restaurant on top. Once there, begin looking for signs to parking areas around the docks. Paid parking is in short supply, and there’s no free parking anywhere near the festival site, leading organizers to encourage visitors to take the bus or a taxi.

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