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Bullfights highlight Sunday Yomitan Festival

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2005-10-28

A colorful weekend is on tape in Yomitan, where the bulls will be going head to head.

The bullfights are worth checking out, as this is an unusual festival. For the squeamish…don’t worry. Unlike bullfights in many places of the world, the Okinawa style does not involve bulls being injured or killed. It’s a friendly battle, so to speak.

The bullfighting tournament is Sunday afternoon beginning at one o’clock at the Yomitan Village Murasaki Mura, formerly called Studio Park. The Yomitan Festival, now in its 31st year, offers not only the bullfights, but showcases its historic potteries and popular sweet potatoes. The bullfights are a drawing card though, and a favorite among Okinawans.

The preliminary fights begin Saturday evening, winnowing down the number of contestants. Okinawa’s bulls are not professionals, as in other countries. Instead, they’re typically farm bulls used in agricultural roles. Farmers began the fighting sport to entertain themselves and their neighbors, but were careful not to allow harm to their animals. Bulls had to work, and that took precedence.

So, how do bulls fight without being hurt? Each bulls horns are shaped, and the bulls are trained in six different fighting techniques. They’re taught to snag the other bull, push from the side against the opponent’s stomach, lift the other bull from under the face, go nose to nose, face to face, bounce off the opponent’s body, and engage in some heavy pushing.

The bulls battle strongly, but never engage in dangerous or violent behavior. No broken bones or bleeding bodies, but levels of skill and technique. As the bulls’ handlers guide them during the ring battles, the animals listen. They sense, if not know, when the fight is over and who the winner is. The key is, when the handler says “stop!”, the bulls stop the battle. As they cool down, they even demonstrate traits of friends.

Major bullfights in Okinawa take place only twice a year, on the second Sunday in May and the second Sunday in November. These bouts are preliminaries leading to the key island-wide competitions.

Yomitan is known nationwide for its festival, and for its bullfights. The sweet potatoes are pretty well known too, and tasty treats. As for the pottery, there are some beautiful local styles, including one known as Kiroro. Yomitan invites you to share their village, and their customs and culture. Admission is free.

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