Every year on May 4 of the lunar calendar (around late May to June) a ‘Hari’ takes place in fishing ports throughout Okinawa. This is an event where fishermen compete in boat races using traditional Okinawan boats, such as the big dragon boats and the smaller ‘Sabini’. The Hari is a festival that prays for the safety of the fishermen and bountiful harvests, and although there are various opinions as to its origin, it is said that the festival originated in Tomigusuku in the south of Okinawa’s main island after being introduced from China roughly 600 years ago. In recent years, some areas have become increasingly popular and the Naha Hari in Naha city is Okinawa’s most famous tourism event, welcoming many tourists every year. Meanwhile, a traditional Hari which remains sacred to this day can be witnessed at the Itoman Hare in Itoman city, a place which has been known as a fisherman’s town since long ago.
With more than 200,000 visitors each year, the Naha Hari is the largest in Okinawa Prefecture. Unlike other areas in the prefecture, the Naha Hari uses large dragon boats known as ‘Haryusen’. These are special types of racing boats which reach 14.5m in length and are colorfully decorated, with a dragon’s head carved at the bow and a tail at the stern. While the smaller Sabani can fit up to 12 people made up of rowers, a gong beater and a helmsman, the dragon boats can fit up to 32 rowers alone, with a total of 42 people including the gong beaters, helmsmen and flag bearers. Also, the Naha Hari does not follow the lunar calendar but instead takes place every year from May 3-5 at the same time as the consecutive national holidays in early summer. As well as boat races, visitors can also enjoy song and dance performances on stage, local cuisine and organized events such as fireworks. It is also possible to experience boarding a dragon boat throughout the day.
Just a 20-minute drive from Naha Airport, the Itoman Hare is held at Itoman Fishing Port in Itoman City, in the south of Okinawa’s main island. The fishing industry in Itoman City has thrived since long ago, and during this traditional event, participants race in small fishing boats known as “sabani,” which were once used for fishing. The highlight of the event is the “kunnukase,” or the capsize race, an event unique to this fishing town which tests the skills of participants as sailors. During the race, all riders jump into the sea and flip the boat over to show its underside. They then flip the boat back over, climb back into the boat, and resume the race. The key to winning the race is in how quickly they can scoop out the seawater that enters the boat. Great cheers can be heard from the spectators during the race.
Hari are held in each area of Okinawa Prefecture. In the south of the main island, there is Minatogawa in Yaese where, like Itoman city, it is known as ‘Hare’. There is also Tomigusuku, the birthplace of the event, and Nanjo on Ojima Island. In the central area of the main island is Onna village, Yomitan village, Kadena and Chatan. Hari are also held on remote islands, including Aguni Island, Tokashiki Island, Ie Island, Kume Island and Ishigaki Island.