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Tug of War pulls Yonabaru together

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2012-08-17

Prayers for a good harvest set the stage for Yonabaru Town’s traditional Tug of War Sunday, as thousands gather for one of the island’s largest festivals.

The 30th annual Yonabaru Festival has evolved from more than 400 years of inherited traditions, where residents called upon the gods to provide a bountiful crops harvest and to chase devils away. This year’s tug of war takes place in Yonabaru Town Sunday, beginning at 5 p.m. Before the townspeople and tens of thousands of visitors grab the rope, though, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

The Yonabaru Festival is a two-day affair, with opening ceremonies at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Main Festival open space in Udun-yama Youth Square in the town’s downtown. The fun begins with the All Okinawa Sumo Contest at 5 p.m. Eisa dance takes the stage at 7 p.m., followed by live performances by Mayumi Yamakawa and Shima Uta Shojo Ten at 8:20 p.m.

A children’s tug of war gets things going 9 a.m. to noon Sunday, followed by children’s eisa in the afternoon and adult presentations in the evening. Throughout the festival there are dozens of vendor booths offering food, fun and products for sale. Fireworks cap the evening at 8:45 p.m. The pre-festival tug-of-war dance parade kicks off at 4 p.m., following by the tug-of-war history parade at 4:30 p.m.

It’s the tug of war that draws like a magnet though. The tug of war kicks off at 5 p.m. The festive event follows the historical precedent, with east and west villagers, both male and female, coming together. In olden days, men of the villages gathered and carried the rope around the community before the tug of war. All who attended the tug of war in that era were assured of a safe life, free of accidents and injury from natural disasters.

Following the great tug-of-war, the Yonabaru Fighter Three Show goes on stage at 6 p.m., followed at 7 p.m. with the Itarashiki Eisa performance at the main festival site. Southern Okinawa Band goes on stage at 8 p.m., and the festival caps with fireworks at 8:45 p.m.

The festival has been staged in Yonabaru Town for 400 years, having begun in the Ryukyu Kingdom era of King Sho-ei, who reigned from 1573-1588. The king chose the festival for good luck and to pray for everyone’s prosperity, including his own. His way of making the event special was the linking of two ropes signifying East and West, forecasting a rich harvest or poor harvest by victory or defeat in the tug of war.

The rope stretches 90 meters and weighs five tons. As the Kanachi stick is placed linking the two spans of rope, the offense and defense begin pulling. It’s been said that many visitors, including those from elsewhere on Okinawa, go away from the event claiming to be blessed with a perfect state of health and prosperity.

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