Okinawa Tourism Information:ItomanGreatTugofWartoPrayforaYearofGoodHarvest

Itoman Great Tug of War to Pray for a Year of Good Harvest

post : 2014.10.03 12:00

On September 8, (August 15 in the lunar calendar), a traditional festival, Itoman Great Tug of War was held in Itoman City.

Tug of war is a religious ritual which takes place to pray to the gods for a successful crop, good catch of fish, safety of families, and a perfect state of health the following year.  The rope is divided into two sections-north and south-one with a male end and one with a female end. The two ends are joined to predict harvest volume and the competition begins, with the results predicting the fortune of each side. 

Tug of war in many communities being tourist oriented, festivals are held on holidays; however, Itoman City sticks to the traditional style and holds the event on August 15 of the lunar calendar.

In addition, in Okinawa only Itoman City make the ropes on the event day.

The ropes are totally 180m when joining the male rope (uujina) and the female rope (miijina) with a diameter at the maximum thickness of 1.5m around the joining part.

They use totally about 10 tons of rice straw to make the ropes.

It is a very suitable size for “Great Tug of War”.

Before the Great Tug of War, a parade called “Michizune,” in which more than 1,000 local people participated, started.  They walked along the street, performing dances, songs, and chidren eisa dance, etc.

One of the participants in the parade is “Ito-chan,” an official *“yuruchara” for Itoman City!

*"yuruchara"are anime-style cartoon mascots that represent the various prefectures of Japan.

“Hatagashira,” the tall bamboo poles with a big ornament on top of a flag, pumps up the michizune parade. Each community designs and makes their own hatagashira with prayers for prosperity as their community’s “symbol or guardian deity.”  A flag pole is so huge, 6m50cm to 8m tall and weighs 40 to 50kg. 

About 15 people carry one hatagashira, followed by a music band called chinku-tai, who set the mood for parade, beating the drum and the gold drum.

Two hatagashira position at the head of the michizune.  One flag reads “Yugafu" which means “good luck,” that is abundant year, fertility, happiness, etc.
The other reads “Kariyushi,” which means “happy or auspicious.”

Usually the “Yugafuu” flag is attached to the male rope while the “Kariyushi” flag is to the female flag.

When the michizune is over, they place the “ear” of the male rope into the “ear” of the female rope, where they put a giant pole called “kanuchi-bo” to join the two.

When the male and female ropes were united, legendary figures called “Shitaku,” young people played as Ichimanmagi and Makabichan appeared from both the north and the south teams.

At the center of the rope they faced each other to boost the morale of both teams.
After a standoff, finally the great tug of war hit the road.

Participants pull the rope for 30 minutes, within which either of the two pull 10m first will be a winner.  If neither of the two can pull 10m within 30 minutes, the one pull more than 2m first will claim victory.  Still if neither of the two can pull 2m or more, they call it quits.

Along with the shout “Haa Iyah,” everybody pulled the rope.

Both the nishikata (North team) and the heekata (South team) could not be settled in the time limit of 30 minutes.  When the decision was given, the nishikata won the victory following last year. 

The great tug of war this year drew about 36,000 spectators from in and out of Itoman City.
They say “If you take home a piece of rope on the winning side with you, it will keep illness away from you for the coming year.”
I saw many children going home happily holding the rope.

Also called “Suninjina (rope for everybody) or Manninjina (rope for ten thousand people),” Itoman Great Tug of War is an event open for everybody.
Why don’t you join the great event to pull the rope together?

Itoman Great Tug of War
Date: August 15 in the lunar calendar
Location; Highway 331, Itoman City (Around Itoman Rotary)

Website for Itoman Sightseeing Information (Itoman Kankou-navi)

Okinwa CLIP Photo Writer   Takano Nakao