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Naha and Okuma festivals add to Golden Week

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2009-05-01

The thrills of the Naha Haarii are about to begin, as tens of thousands flock to Aja Port starting Sunday to partake in the island’s largest dragon boat races and festival.

The three-day festival, the 35th Naha Haarii, invokes the dragon boat races to pay homage to farmers seeking good harvests and fishermen wanting safety on the waters. The Naha Haarii is Okinawa’s largest dragon boat races, with larger boats than those in other dragon boat festivals, and with special dragon’s tail carvings at the sterns.

The festivities are all wrapped in the cocoon of Golden Week, which began yesterday with celebration of Showa Day honoring Japan’s emperor who died in 1989, and running through Wednesday’s observance of Constitution Memorial Day. The holiday is actually Sunday, but celebrated on Wednesday. Okinawans will celebrate Greenery Day on Monday, and Children’s Day on Tuesday. It’s one of Japan and Okinawa’s largest travel holiday periods of the year, during which tens of thousands take vacations and travel.

It’s a time when schools, banks, government offices and most businesses are shuttered to commemorate the plethora of holidays jammed into a single week’s time. Apart from the Naha Haari, the Okuma Beach Festival is luring thousands to join in a weekend of musical live entertainment, water activities, games, foods and fireworks.

Okuma Beach Festival Saturday and Sunday is free, and open to the public, island-wide. The festival grounds open at noon each day. Entertainment is virtually non-stop starting from 2:45 p.m. Saturday with Demo Nande, Home Land Okinawa at 4:45 p.m.,the Wakeboard Show at 5:45 p.m., David Ralston at 6 p.m., U-Dou & Platy at 7:35 p.m., and all Japan Goith at 8:55 p.m.

Sunday’s entertainment line up starts with Kamiya Chihiro at 4 p.m., the Okuma Boat Parade at 5 p.m., Ponytail Ribbons at 5:15 p.m., Ji Ma Ma at 6:30 p.m., Glean Piece at 8 p.m., and Megaryu at 9:10 p.m. Fireworks shows will begin both Saturday and Sunday at 9:55 p.m. No pets or glass containers are permitted at the Okuma Beach Festival.

Opening ceremonies, school bands, a sumo wrestling tournament, comedians and music kick off the Naha Haari on Sunday. The first round of dragon boat races also take place Sunday, with junior high school, adult and business group races.

Traditional dragon boat races originated in China centuries ago as a part of prayers for good harvests and safety. Today, the races are held across Okinawa, in small villages as well as the more well organized festivities hosted by the larger cities. Naha Haarii is the largest festival, with a dozen boats with hand carved heads and dragon faces, and tails in the form of dragon tails. The main dragon boat races are Tuesday, with the challenges beginning at 10:30 a.m.

The dragon boat race finals take place Tuesday afternoon, starting about 4:40 p.m. after traditional prayers to the ocean’s god for safety. Races are by category, with communities and companies, children and the American military challenging the Japanese Self Defense Forces. The excitement takes place at Aja Port in Naha, 1-16-10 Minato Machi. A pair of stages will be in place with entertainment, and food and entertainment booths are all around.

No festival would be complete without fireworks, and Naha Haarii organizers have laid on fantastic fireworks extravaganzas each evening at 8:40 p.m. The three-day festival has something for everyone:

10:00 – Opening ceremonies
10:30 – Okinawa style sumo wrestling tournament sponsored by OTV
10:30 – Kinjo Junior High School student brass bands performance
11:00 – Junior high school, adults and business group dragon boat races
12:00 – Sachiko Nakada Comedian Show
1:00 -- Okinawan dance with Hanayakara children’s group
1:30 -- Live music with Mini
4:30 -- Live music with Miwa Cocoa
6:00 -- David Ralston and Hirara Live
7:00 -- Street dance
7:40 -- D51 Live
8:40 -- Fireworks

11:00 – Weight lifting tournament sponsored by OTV
11:00 – Dragon boat rides for the general public
11:30 – Children’s Show
12:30 – Aerobics tournament
2:00 -- Children’s Show
4:00 -- Children’s Show
4:10 -- Live music
7:00 -- Children’s Show
7:30 -- Diamantes Live
8:40 -- Fireworks

10:30 – Haarii races
11:30 – Miss Naha City Campaign ladies show
12:00 – Local comedians performance
1:00 -- Polynesian, Hawaiian & Framenco dance show
3:00 -- Chinese Martial Arts
4:40 -- Dragon Boat Races (Finals)
6:00 -- Indies Live
8:40 -- Fireworks

Getting There

Go south on Highway 58 toward Naha. When passing Camp Kinser, look for signs to Aja Port. Turn right off Highway 58 and follow signs to Aja Port at the end of the street. Parking is inside the port area.

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