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Annual Naha Festival Returns

Date Posted: 2001-09-08

It's almost the time again when masses of Okinawans and foreigners get together for the annual Naha Festival that attracts hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life together to watch spectacles of Okinawan culture, including dance, music, arts and crafts, food, drinks, and the world's largest tug-of-war. This yearly event offers fun for the whole family and features many of the island's finest musicians and artists.

The giant tug-of-war attracted nearly 300,000 people last year to Highway 58 at Kumoji in the heart of Naha City but ended in a draw after the two teams failed to move the rope the required two meters to either direction within thirty minutes of intense tugging. This tug-of-war battle, called “tsunahiki” in Japanese, traces its history back to the 1600's and its roots to a religious ritual that took place to pray for a successful crop the following year. When rice crops were abundant on Okinawa, tsunahiki took place all over the island year round.

The giant rope, which is 186 meters long and 1.56 meters wide weighing over 40 tons, has been certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest in the world. In the past, the outcome of the battle would help shamans predict the future but these days the competition is for fun. This year's tsunahiki will be held on Sunday, Oct 7 starting at noon with 2,000 people participating in a parade going from the Southern end of Kokusai street (Street) near Ryubo to the Northern end. During the parade, 14 flags will be carried alongside dancing participants, and the parade will end around 2:40 p.m. From there, the festivities will move to the Kumoji intersection where the giant tug-of-war will take place. This ceremony will begin at 3:20 p.m. and will include karate and taiko drumming performances until 4:30 p.m. when the actual battle begins. The time limit for the tug-of-war is thirty minutes with the side that manages to pull the massive rope more than five meters being declared the winner. If this distance is not crossed within thirty minutes, the team who has pulled the rope more than two meters is declared the winner, and if this is not accomplished the battle ends in a tie.

Aside from the giant tsunahiki battle, there are many other festivities taking place in Naha. On Saturday, from 4 to 8:30 p.m., there will be a citizen's folk and traditional entertainment event taking place along Kokusai Street with a marching band led by students and children parading through the streets along with parades by companies, public organizations, a folk preservation group, the Ryukyu Dance Institute, and other groups. Also, from Saturday to Sunday, the Naha Citizen's Festival will be held in Onoyama Park. During these festivities, from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday and Monday, you can come watch various pop singers and other performers, enjoy food from various vendors, view the Naha Industrial Fair exhibitions, and watch fireworks every night. There will be two stages at this festival: Commerce Stage and Beer Paradise Stage.

On Saturday, various Okinawan pop singers will perform on the Commerce Stage from 2 p.m. through 9 p.m., and on the Beer Paradise Stage, the festivities will begin with a Hawaiian dance team performing from 5 p.m., a Japanese folk concert beginning at 6 p.m., and Bigin and Rimi Natsukawa will perform from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The next day, the Commerce Stage will see a traditional dance starting at 6:30 p.m., Green Bear and Deji-Fra will perform from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., while on the Beer Paradise Stage, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., a Japanese TV variety show will be shot on stage. Salsa sensation Kachimba 1551 will perform from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., (period) Finally, on Monday, Okinawan pop groups will perform on the Commerce Stage from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., followed by a karaoke competition from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Several Okinawan bands will perform on the Beer Paradise Stage from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., followed by acclaimed pop band J-Walk. This three-day festival promises to be fun for the whole family with plenty booths and vendors set up selling a variety of delicious foods and drinks, and each night ending with fireworks.

The Naha festivities will be fun for people of all walks of life and all ages. Here, you will get a taste of all aspects of Okinawan culture including history, tradition, music, food, and more! For those who are planning on driving to Naha for the festival, Kokusai Street will be closed on October 7 from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., and near Kumoji intersection, Highway 58 will be closed from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Plan ahead for parking or consider other means of transportation.

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