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In a laid-back atmosphere, Miyako Island welcomes the summer season with Hari, the festival for the sea gods
post : 2021.06.18 15:00
The festival committee’s Haryusen, or dragon boat, rowing out to the venue.
At various locations throughout Okinawa, Kaijinsai or festivals dedicated to the gods of the sea are held to mark the closing of the rainy season. The main event for the spectators is the boat race held with teams of dragon boats that are locally referred to as Hari or Hare.
This sea festival is a traditional event held on May 4 (Yukkanuhi) according to the lunar calendar, to offer prayers to the sea gods for abundant catch and safety at sea for the coming year. The event shows us how the people of the islands in the ages past were very connected to the sea in their daily lives. To learn the culture of Okinawa, the Hari is an event you don’t want to miss.
Local high school boys.
The girls aren’t outdone by the boys! They’re all smiles from the beginning. Their laid-back attitude is great.
Among the many Hari events, those in the southern region of Okinawa Island, like Itoman and Ojima in Nanjo City, and also the Shioya community in Ogimi Village at the northern part of the island are famous even among those Okinawa fans living outside of the prefecture. The communities on Miyako Island also offer unique and diverse Hari races and are held at various fishing ports and along the coasts throughout the island.
For this article, I visited Nunohoshido, to see the event cherished by the tightly knit community. Teams with members made up not just of fishermen but from diverse backgrounds participate in this wonderful event, from surfers, staff from local diving shops and various eating and drinking establishments, high school students, and more. They say there has been more diving shop staff than fishermen participating in the event in recent years. Every year, more and more newcomers to the island, like those who relocated to Miyako Island from mainland Japan, are enthusiastically joining in on the exciting Hari event.
Before the main Hari dragon boat race, the event organizers join the Kaminchu (literally translating to “people of god”; ritual practitioners) who are called Tsukasanma, as they visit the sacred Utaki sites located in the community. At the Utaki, prayers are offered for the safety of all those participating in the event. At Nunohoshido, after visiting the four sacred Utaki sites, Ugan or prayers are offered at the fishing port, and people migrate over to Painagama Beach, the Hari venue, to prepare for the big event.
Hideo Chinen, the president of the Nunohoshido ship owners’ union, offers cups of sake to the executive committee of the day’s events. Chinen-san has been involved in the local Kaijinsai for 25 years. “Every year, I enjoy seeing everybody working together to make the Kajinsai a success,” Chinen-san says with a smile.
After the preparations are done, people relax for a little break. A short while later, the members of the Nunohoshido ship owners’ union on the executive committee join the two Tsukasama priestesses and offer prayers to the sea. After Ugan prayers are offered, it’s time for the Hari dragon boat race that all have been excitedly waiting for.
From nursery school children, their guardians, and the grandparents, people of all ages gather to see the Hari. On the year I went, the event was held on a weekday, so besides those participating in the race, I didn’t see other school-aged kids. Still, the venue was erupting with cheers from relatives and friends for those in the race.
A chosen team member jumps off from the bow of the boat. The first team to step onto the beach is the winner.
A shot taken just moments before a dragon boat loses balance and tips over.
With people shouting, “Gohei!” and along to the beat of the drums, the dragon boats race to the finish. Not just the children but all of the locals have always admired those in the races, seeing them in full action.
That said, though, one of the greatest characteristics of the Kajinsai in Miyako Island is the heartwarmingly laid-back attitudes of the people. “Winning isn’t the focus. It’s more about us all getting together and enjoying ourselves!” It’s that kind of friendliness that has the participants and spectators enjoying the day.
A fishing vessel in “formal attire” with the Tairyobata (big catch) banners dancing in the wind and looking exceptionally brilliant for this special occasion.
Once Miyako Island’s Kaijinsai Hari dragon boat race event is complete, next is the great banquet held in an open square near the water, at a place called Zugaki. The gathering starts before noon and goes on through to around sunset, and is an important part of the annual event to encourage communication and to strengthen ties among the residents of all ages.
After leaving Painagama Beach, I decided to visit the Hisamatsu community situated on the west side of Miyako Island. Unlike Nunohoshido, which is located in the central region of the island, Hisamatsu maintains the scenery and feel of an old fishing village.
Local elementary school students performing their Eisa dance dedicated to the gods.
On the stage that is set up in the open square, local children, the women’s association, the senior’s association, and other various groups of all ages perform their songs and dances. When I arrived at the venue, the students of the local Hisamatsu Elementary School were performing their Eisa drum dancing, dedicated to the gods with hopes for abundant harvests.
Every year for the Kajinsai held at the Kugai and Matsubara communities, they have performances praying for safety at sea, abundant catch, and Shishi-mai lion dance to cast away evil spirits. The Shishi-mai dance held at Matsubara has been handed down the generations among the local people since long ago and is deemed to be a precious folk culture property for people to learn about the customs and traditions of the people of Miyako Island.
Just like how Okinawa Soba has different flavors and aromas according to each region, the Kajinsai offers different charms and airs depending on the location. For an interesting perspective, visit various Kajinsai and Hari events throughout the prefecture during your visits to Okinawa.
Hari (sea god festival) inquiries:
Miyako Island Tourism and Commerce Bureau
Venue: Various fishing ports on Miyako Island
Date: Around May 4 on the lunar calendar
Note: All Hari events on Miyako Island have been canceled for this year.
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda