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Enjoy day of sun and Dragon boat races at Manza Beach

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-07-30

The Manza Beach Resort will be holding their 15th annual "Manza Hari Festival" on Sunday, July 5. The event has come to be known as one of the biggest and most exiting Hari races in Okinawa, and this year will be no exception.

The Manza race will bring together over 70 teams, and almost 800 participants for a one day competition to see who is this year's fastest team. The tournament is organized into two categories. Twelve teams will participate in this year's "Champion Race", with the best teams from around Okinawa paddling through a 600 meter qualifying course. Last year's champion, Ojima, is expected to face stiff competition this year from a number of strong teams. After racing the 600 meter qualifying heats, the boats will move into the finals, a grueling 900 meter race to the finish line.

The "Challenge Race", which is open to everyone, is a 300 meter course from start to finish. This year the tournament received approximately 60 entrees. With so many teams, the winner will be hard to predict. Although last year's victor, Itoman, will again be tough to beat.

"Hari", known to many foreigners as "dragon boats", has been a part of Okinawan culture since the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom. The boats were originally designed after similar vessels from China. Traditionally, the boats would race in Naha, where the king would watch rival clans compete in the very popular event. The vessels get there nickname "dragon boats", because of the elaborately painted designs and carved dragon heads at the front of each boat. Hari eventually started to fade away, but was revitalized again in the 1970's. It is now a huge favorite of both locals and foreigners.

Although the race is for fun and done in good sportsmanship, the top teams all practice very hard for many of the tournaments around the prefecture. The competition has brought back some of the historical rivalries of the past.

Each team consists of 11 members. There is a helmsman who steers the boat, and one or two "rhythm chanters" who ride at the bow. The rhythm is usually sounded out on some type of drum, while the paddlers themselves chant out the rhythm through yelling "sui" "sui". A well trained crew will have everyone paddling in unison, making the rhythm one of the most important factors to winning a race. Although strength plays a certain role, it is usually stamina and well coordinated paddling that determine the fastest boat.

The carnival like atmosphere on the beach provides plenty of fun and entertainment for those who have come just to watch. Friends and family gather on the shoreline to cheer their teams on with taiko drums, singing and dancing, giving spectators a true taste of Okinawan life. The dancing and singing by women on the beach is traditional, and is intended to bring good fortune to their team.

If you are looking for something different this 4th of July weekend, head on over to Manza Beach this Sunday for the Manza Hari Festival. To get there, follow Route 58 north from Kadena. After you pass the Rizzan Sea Park Resort, continue for another ten to fifteen minutes. Look for the post office on your right and the fire station on your left. Manza will be the next big resort on your left. It is located just after the Onna Fishing Port.

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