Okinawa Tourism Information:Ou-jimaSeaGodFestivalwithaninterestingepisodeoftheoriginoftheirhaarii

Ou-jima Sea God Festival with an interesting episode of the origin of their haarii

post : 2015.07.03 19:00

In Okinawa, on May 4th of the lunar calendar called “yukkanuhii,” haarii race is held at the sea god festival.  The sea god festival is a traditional ritual to pray for to the sea god for abundant catch of fish and safe marine travel.  Among all the sea god festivals in Okinawa, Ou-jima Haarii in Nanjo City is very characteristic.  Here, I will report how the sea god festival was held!

The May 4th of the lunar calendar of 2015 was Friday, June 19.  We had a very fine weather, and in the early morning, the event started with ugan (prayer) at Kannondo (Hall of Buddhist deity of mercy) in the center of the community.  Why they start the ritual at the Kannondo?  There is an episode of how the haarii started on Ou-jima Island. About 400 years ago from now, a ship from China wrecked around Ou-jima and the islanders rescued the crew members.  After returning to China safely, they presented the statue of Kannon to the people of Ou-jima as an expression of their gratitude.  Kannondo on Ou-jima, which is dedicated to the statue has been a very important sacred place for the island.  Kaminchu (a shaman who specializes in religious practices in Okinawa) of Ou-jima, the ward mayor, all the rowers in the haarii boats gathered here to offer prayers. 

After that, the members carried the haarii boats from Kannondo to the sea.  There were four boats of No.1 and No.2 boats of “Iri (West)” and No.1 and No.2 boats of “Agari (East)” in the sea.  In addition, from the boat with the kaminchu on it, “Mishiraki prayer” for the safe voyage and the prosperity was offered.

After the prayer was completed, finally the haarii race started.  The rowers were divided into two teams: “West with red hairband” and “East with white hairband” and competed each other in seven races in “Hon Baarii (Main Haarii).”  The first haarii race was “Ugan Baarii (Haarii for Prayers)” just like other areas of Okinawa.  It was the longest course and everybody rowed hard toward the goal in total synchronization.    

The very characteristic race on Ou-jima is the third race “Nagarebune (boat floating by),” which is also called “Tobikomi Haarii (Jumping-in Haarii).”  When the participants jumped off the bridge which connects the mainland Okinawa and Ou-jima into the water and got into the boat, the race started!  This is a must-see, powerful scene of jumping from the about 3-meter-high bridge.    

Another highlight is the sixth race “Kunkeeraashii.”  In the dialect of Ou-jima, the locals say “kunkeerasu” for “to overturn.”  The participants started the haarii boats at the bottom of the bridge, and they capsized the boats while rowing at the flag signal from the judge boat!  The rowers thrown into the water tried to correct the boats using the oars skillfully and rode in quickly to resume the race.    

I believe the considerable physical strength and technique are required for the races, but for the haarii event unique to the island of fishermen, they have been training at sea since the old times through this kind of traditional events.

By the end of the six baarii, the West won three while the East three.  At the last one, the seventh baarii “Agari Baarii” was going to determine which would be a winner.  This is the climax of the haarii race for fishermen and young people of the island who had been practicing really hard for the past one month.  This year the team “West” won the races!  They exploded in exultation and celebrated their victory with the boat carried.

Mr. Hikoya Ashitomi, the head of the team “West” said, “We earned the second consecutive victory.  We won the victory with everybody’s united power!”  I can tell that “The best part of the festival is to watch how strong everybody in the community is united as one to try for the traditional event.”  After the traditional “Hon Baarii,” I enjoyed “Shokuiki Haarii (Occupation Haarii),” in which 16 teams of coworkers in the same workplaces and students of the same schools competed.  If you would like to see the traditional marine event haarii (the sea god festival), please come to Okinawa on May 4th of the lunar calendar!  (*For next year, the event is held on Wednesday, June 6, 2016.)

*How to get to Ou-jima Island
About 50-minute drive from Naha Airport via Highway 331 toward the south.

Okinawa CLIP Photo Writer  Hiroshi Kuwamura (KUWA)

*Related Articles:
Sea God Festival of Miyako Island
Ishigaki-jima Haarii