Monday, October 12, 2009

The Great Tsunahiki

Weave forty plus tons of rice straw into a rope and make it a little over two city blocks long. Because of its size and to keep it from blocking traffic, you’ll have to divide it into halves. Once everything is in place, go ahead and invite 250,000 or so of your closest friends and neighbors over for a party.


When everyone arrives, have them help pull the two halves together and join the two ends, then invite two famous kings from Okinawa’s past to come back from the dead and issue challenges to each other. Have a lot of other folks dressed in period costumes dance around and shout then throw in a few karate demonstrations just for show. When all that is finished, give a signal and have everyone pull with all their might.


What you have is a “Tsunahiki,” or great tug-o-war. This little celebration has been an indispensable facet of the autumnal season here in Okinawa for centuries. Many of the surrounding cities and towns hold their own Tsunahiki but no one can even come close to the grandeur of the Naha tug-o-war celebration which is the biggest in the whole world


Each year the great Tsunahiki in Naha has Guinness Record Book implications. It seems that somehow, each year they find a way to add a little more to length and weight to the rope and each year it seems they’re able to cram a few thousand more people into a few city blocks.

The giant rope has a whole crew of workers dedicated to its manufacture and it takes them more than a month to assemble it. The night before the appointed day, the rope is trucked to the Kumoji intersection of highway 58, nearest to Kokusai Street and the Prefectural Office Building. Here the highway has a Northeast to Southwest orientation.

The ropes are looped at the ends nearest the center with the East end representing male and the West representing female. The participants (everyone) pull the ends of the rope toward the center where the female end is looped over the male end and they are locked together by a ten foot long wooden peg.


Once this is accomplished the signal is given, a large golden ball elevated above the intersection is opened showering everyone below in confetti and the struggle begins. The rules are simple, which ever side pulls the rope a distance of three meters (roughly ten feet) within the allotted time wins. If neither side is able to accomplish the goal within thirty minutes, the contest is declared a draw.


Once it’s finished everyone regardless of which side they were on celebrates and people cut off sections of rope to take home with them. This is believed to bring them good luck for the rest of the year. Here on Okinawa, regardless the outcome, the Tsunahiki is just a great excuse to bring everyone together and have a great time!


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