Chinafuichi: Naha’s Tug of War


You wouldn’t participate in a Jenga game that is, say, a 100 feet tall? Would you? Or like a horseshoe that weighs 50 pounds? Well, Okinawa’s side of Naha cranked the game of tug of war into the highest level. I, along with 277,000 people, participated.


A rope of over 656 feet (I’ll let you imagine that for a second……….) made from rice straw was recorded in Guinness Book of Records as the longest rope made from natural material. Every year since 1997, Okinawans together with tourists around the globe get a hold of this mighty rope weighing 40 tons. We all joined to witness the festivities and the pulling of the rope.


As soon as it started, it was chaos. Movements everywhere. There are parades. Fireworks being lit. There are these 30-foot banner poles (hatagashira) that were being raised. “Ha ii ya” was enthusiastically being chanted. People were running towards the rope. You plan to come to this event, better prepare to bustle with the crowd. This ain’t for the squirmish. I hang to the rope tightly, as well as my belongings and camera. It was a beautiful chaos.


Keep in mind that Naha’s Great Tug of War is actually considered as a festival. There were other things to enjoy such as karate demonstration, dances, children playing music, fireworks, hatagashira contest, a ball dropping, kings’ battle, and more. All these were done before the war between the East and the West.



The side that pules five meters wins. Originally in China, the tug of war decides which between two religions, Buddhism or Taoism, is more superior. In old Japan, it was to determine which fishermen and farmers get the good luck for bounty. Today, it is used to be held for health and prosperity – to give thanks, to pray for rain, and to keep away disease for those who participate.

Let the game begins…



The crowd acts on the whistles of the leader, conductor or director. Together we chanted “Ha ii yah”.






Pulling the rope was tiring. I love it when you can actually feel the rope moving to our end. We were all getting smushed around. We got blisters on our hands. I spotted a good number of unmatched sliippers on the ground. My voice was a little hoarsed. I was sore the next day. And all I can think of it is that this succeeds all the events I’ve ever gone to.

To me, in the end, it was no longer about how ridiculously big and excessive the rope is anymore. It’s the scene of the crowd, our enthusiasm, the cultural aspect, the friendly competition, the rhythms and chants, the excitements… This really is THE best event ever!


Now which side won? Duh, we did! The East has won the West. The Β exhaustion, the energy and all of our motivation paid off.

We celebrated.



38 replies »

  1. What a spectacle ! Looking through your pictures .. I wonder how long did the guy last on the rope after blowing his whistle … did the girl keep her bag in tact … someone came prepared with GLOVES ! …
    Crazy fun Rommel πŸ™‚ rope blisters … eeek …

    • Hmmm… Didn’t see that much people wearing gloves. Japanese people have the best morals and integrity. They are the nicest. People are not worried about their possessions being stolen. If you lose something, even like on a bench or inside a taxi, there’s a very good chance you’ll get it back. It really is spectacular. The conductors did an awesome job controlling the pullers.

  2. I can feel the energy, excitement, craziness… from your cool shots πŸ™‚ 277,000 people, Wow!
    Could you explain what they were doing showing on the pic right below “The crowd acts on the whistles of the leader…”

    • I was saving other info for part deux. Anyhow, they are just keeping the top part from falling to the ground until the actual pulling of the rope starts. They are strong and resilient to be holding those sticks for so long against that giant rope. I was very impressed.

    • We were doing it for 30 minutes. It was such joy when you can feel the gigantic thing moves. Kudos to us for keeping our momentum and spirits up.

  3. Another very interesting and different festival you have introduced to us! I would have been worried about getting trampled. Glad you survived without any serious problems:)

    • Other than sweats, small blisters and a little raspy voice, everyone is very fine after the event. I was worried about that little girl who only had a slipper though. One of us came with a flip flops too. Pffft… Travel noobs. Ahihihihi πŸ˜€

  4. to health and prosperity! a blissful event plus you mention the people are gathered in one massive crowd yet the only worry is losing flip-flops, voices and skin along the way. it would be an honor to say one came from that culture. thanks again – great share β™₯

    • Thanks Sunshine. I am very fortunate to have gone to an event like this. When we were walking the streets, I hear all kinds of languages. People around the world come here, pay good money to witness this. I get the oppurtunity to come here in Japan for work. I recognize that blessing.

    • You can imagine us being smushed, crunched and moved around so much but we all still smile and look at each other thinking this is so much fun.

  5. I love your comment “beautiful chaos” and I can see that! You managed to really get some wonderful angles on your photos and capture the energy of this interesting festival. Even with perfect photos I still can’t imagine a crowd in this tug-of-war. What a great groups participation! Very interesting!

    • Thanks for the notice. I pretty much risked it with my camera actually. But I guess people can still see the good camera around my neck and know not to mess around me so much. But yeah I was risking it because the crowd gets so rowdy. There was this girl with good camera who diverted away during the actual pulling of the rope so I can understand why people wouldn’t want a crowd like this.

  6. I love what I am learning from you from this area of the world. What a great festival! I do wonder, however, why didn’t those participating in the tug-of-war wear gloves? I look at all of you and think ouch!

  7. Beautiful chaos indeed, I wanna join this kind of event! Saw somebody wearing glove, nice way to prevent blisters, maybe I’ll wear that, too, to be able to exert more force and yes, somehow lessen blisters lol. What a great way to experience Japanese culture. Ha ii yah!

    • πŸ™‚ Ha ii yah! πŸ™‚ I probably saw another two other than the one in the picture. If I go to it again, I still wouldn’t bring a glove. πŸ˜‰ No pain, no gain. πŸ˜€ But yeah, one guy from my group has mad blisters that up to now still are visible. So, I understood the concerns.

  8. Now that’s a whole multitude of people, Rommel! What a great spectacle, and your photos are so exciting. I’ve never seen such a thick rope in all my life, and so much enthusiasm on people’s faces. Congrats on being in the winning team. This experience is one you’ll never forget. πŸ˜€

  9. Rommel, what a great day!!! LOVE it!! πŸ™‚

    The pictures are clear & wonderful – love that first one – & your write up is just perfect. Of course you won!

    It sounds amazing, just amazing. Where the hell do they keep the rope locked up until next year? !

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