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Okinawa bullfights go bull-on-bull

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2009-05-15

Traditional bullfights around the world pit the cape-wielding matador against a bull, both looking for victory. In Okinawa, bullfights are a totally different story.

Thereís no matador at any of the islandís 14 bullfighting rings; instead, the action places two bulls against each other until one gives up the fight. In each event, the objective is for the bullsóeach weighing more than a ton (1,000kg)óto strike at each other with their faces or horns, butting and intimidating each other. The match ends when one bull becomes evasive and escapes, or simply turns tail and runs.

Bullfights take place virtually year around, with May and November the time for All-Okinawan events in the Ishikawa Multi-purpose Dome in Uruma City. Originally a recreational sport for farmers and small villages, the bullfights were held in conjunction with local festivals. Today, itís still entertainment, but much targeted to city dwellers and tourists.

With bull facing bull, itís the owner-trainer-handler whoís key in shaping the bullsí instincts. In the ring, one bull has a red ribbon on his tail to let everyone know which is which. Both have ropes fixed in their noses, which handlers use to control the bulls while screaming encouragement to their animals. In a typical bullfight event, 20 bulls are paired into ten matches, with each bull fighting only once during the four-hour event.

Bullfights are held only on Sundays, a long established custom. Owners pay entry fees for tournaments, but for a local festival, participation is free. Four bullfights are scheduled during the coming couple of months, all open to the public. The Higashionna Tournament is at 1 p.m. June 7th, with spectator tickets •2,500. The June 21st Fatherís Day Tournament is at 1 p.m., with tickets selling for •3,000. Tickets are •2,500 for the July 26th Yokatsu Tournament, and for the All Okinawa Weatherweight Bullsí Tournament tickets are •3,000. All bullfights are at the Ishikawa Multi-purpose Dome.

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