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Itoman hosts dragon boat races Saturday

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2008-06-06

Five haarii festivals take place on Okinawa this weekend, with the largest at Itoman Fishing Port, home to Okinawa’s fishermen.

Haari festivals, which began early in the 18th century to pray for rain, safety for fishermen and good harvests, have long been popular with Okinawa’s citizens, and this weekend will be no exception. Dozens of long, slender boats designed and adorned to appear as dragons, will slip through the waters in competitions pitting fishing company against fishing company and civic groups against civic groups.

Haarii’s historic name comes from the Chinese word for dragon, what Chinese call Ryuu. The boats look like dragons with their colorful bows pointing skyward. Boat shapes have been modified through the years, with even tradition bowing to hydrodynamic adjustments.

Itoman City, Okinawa’s largest fishing community, makes its haarii festival the biggest event of the year. Three different villages within the city participate, with each having the same sabani-style racing boat. A colorful perspective of the sabani boat races is that the crews overturn the boats at the turn point of the course, right them, and continue racing.

Itoman Haari Festival begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at Itoman Fishing Port. Information on the festival is available from the city, (098) 992-2011.

Oujima Kaijinsai also takes place on Saturday, starting at 9 a.m. The Oujima festival dates back 400 years, started after Oujima residents rescued the crew of a Chinese ship that had wrecked in the area. Chinese have thanked the Oujima citizens, and sent a temple to the community as a memorial. Oujima citizens go to the Kannon to pray for the village development, safety and good harvests.

A special feature of the Oujima Festival Kaijin sai is that racers will jump down to the boards from a bridge to begin the races, then flip the boats over, then use paddles to turn the boas upright before continuing. Information on the festival at the Oujima Sea Wall is available at (098) 948-7190.

The Ishigaki-Shi Haarii Dragon Boat races begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Ishigaki Fishermen’s Pier. Ishigaki is located about 270 miles south of Okinawa’s main island in the Yaeyama district. Information is available at (098) 082-3268.

Onna Village will stage a haarii festival at Maekaneku Fishing Port Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m. Events information is available at (098) 964-2820. The Minatogawa Haariii is also scheduled for Saturday, and will include an island-wide sumo wrestling tournament. The action takes place at Minatogawa Fishing Port in. Information can be obtained at (098) 988-2261.

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