Naha Hari Dragon Boat Races

Okinawa is Japan’s southern most prefecture.  Its comprised of around 160 islands* some of them very close together.  Since Okinawa is a set of islands and has such a long, rich history, it is no wonder there is a strong maritime tradition.  The Hari or Dragon Boat comes from Chinese culture and is one of many cultural items adopted by the former Ryukyu Kingdom.  The old country used the over-sized canoes to get between islands.  Over time, competitions between neighbors overcame war and as a way to test ability.  Today the hari boat races are still a part of Okianwan culture, and like many traditional Japanese sports are part of a festival.  Like sumo they are an offering of effort to the village, ancestors, and spirits.  Today the events are also great community and team building activities and draw large populations of tourists.

The Naha Hari boat festival takes place at Tomari port, a fishing port near the Tomarin ferry terminal in Naha City, Okinawa.  This year the festival lasted from May 3-5 and comprised many races.  Large teams from various organizations, schools, businesses, and even the military participated.  Each race consisted of 3 large teams all in their own boat.  The boats traveled several hundred meters, turned and made their way back.  In addition to the races, there were many carnival like attractions and games, with two stages, rides, and myriad food stations.  A large population of foreigners attended the event, possibly military families from nearby bases.

There will be many more Hari races over the next weeks as many azas (neighborhoods) have their own boat races to ensure safe seas and good fishing.  I’ll bring you more on Kumejima’s upcoming Hari races in June.