Okinawa Tourism Information:TraditionalItoman"Hare"DragonBoatRacesthankingtheblessingsofthesea

Traditional Itoman "Hare" Dragon Boat Races
thanking the blessings of the sea

post : 2015.08.17 18:00

"When Hare bells on a dragon boat ring, summer is just around the corner." Hare, or Dragon Boat Races, is a traditional celebration that has been held from a long, long time ago.

It is said to have been brought to the islands from China about 600 years ago during the Ryukyu Kingdom era. Hare is a fishermen's festival to pray for abundant catches and safe seafaring while each team competes in a dragon boat called " Haryusen " which is carved with dragon's head and a tail.

In olden days, Haryusen used to be called " Harebune " so in Itoman, a city of fishermen, people call the festival " Itoman Hare." The festival is held on May 4th of the lunar calendar.

Every year, many people come to see the race at Itoman Fishing Port.

Divided into three villages, Shindakari, Nandakari, and Mijima, the main races of Itoman Hare is called Ugan bare ( people will pray in order of winners), Kunnukase (a race where boats are deliberately capsized), Agaisubu(a race of the best paddlers from villages), and youth associations' Hare. Wearing traditional costumes of each village, paddlers ride in dragon boats to race the distance of 855 to 2150 meters.

There are many events like duck-catching race that anyone can join, "Munchu Hare" is a racce that a team of paternal relatives race against. Local high school students and teachers compete- school vs school and also there is a local company vs local company.

It starts with Ugan bare, a race of fishermen.
After praying for ancestors and god on top of a small hill, fishermen head down to the port and the race starts. ( Ugan means praying in Okinawan dialect.)

On hare boat, there are 10 rowers, a navigator, a cadence drummer, a flag puller. Not just competing on the speed, they paddle so hard thanking the grace of the sea and praying for safe seafaring for the coming year.

Junior high school students also paddle the same distance as adults. Their speed and team work is quite exciting! In youth associations' Hare, teens from each village practice so hard every day for this day.

In between races, a group of girls performed dance and singing. This is another moment that visitors can enjoy.

Another attraction of this Hare is duck-catching race. Once the race starts, everyone, many visitors or residents, jump into the sea ,and catch ducks swimming in the port within a certain time. There are not only ducks, but also there are balls that you can exchange it to watermelon or red sea bream later. For those who are not good at swimming,rescue members are on Jet Ski and floats are set at each point.

In local company vs local company race, 60 teams joined the race in 2014. Their team work was incredible!

At almost end of the festival, Kunnukase is a race where boats are deliberately capsized, so paddlers have to right a boat, drain the water as fast as possible , and start paddling!

If there are too much water left in the boat, it will go underwater, but putting a lot of time into draining, other boat will pass right next and go ahead.

This is to test fishermens' technique to see if they have knowledge and physical strength to right a boat and continue fishing when they are out in the ocean.

As Itoman is a town of fishermen, race is so competitive that there are so many visitors to see this festival. People watching get excited.

Next race is Agaisubu. After placing a village's boat in the center of the port,  Hare-boat from each village go around 3 times counterclockwise, singing Hare-songs. After this traditional ceremony, the last race starts.

Best paddlers from each village race the distance of 2150 meters. It is said that it is a great honor to win this race.

Even it starts raining, they wouldn't stop or hesitate, they just keep paddling. Watching this energetic race makes you excited!

In 2014, Shindakari won making a new record of 12 mins 22.61 secs. The same as the year before,Shindakari won this competition.

After award ceremony, people from each village go to the sacred praying spot in Itoman, then they sing Hare -songs and pray.

Itoman Hare starts with praying and ends with praying. What I saw through the entire event was that the people who love and show respect to the ocean and carry on the tradition to the next generation. 

If you have a chance to come to Okinawa around this Hare time of the year, come to see this amazing event!!

Organizer:Itoman Hare Committee
Itoman City URL :

Okinawa CLIP Photo writer: Takano Nakao