Traditional Tug-O-War festival a hit in Okinawa
Stars and Stripes August 16, 2006
HENOKO, Okinawa — Marines and locals gathered at the Henoko Athletic Field on Sunday for a two-day festival that takes place once every three years and culminates with a super-sized tug-o-war.
Henoko’s Giant Tug-O-War festival began Saturday with music by the Okinawa Prefecture Police Force Band, comedy acts and karaoke.
Sunday's events kicked off at 6 p.m. with a performance by the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band.
Part of the festivities included a procession of a portable shrine, helped along by 3- to 5-year-olds from the Kushi Nursery School and 6- to about 13-year-olds from the Henoko area as adults chanted “wasshai” for motivation.
Sam Epperson, a retired Marine who has lived in Henoko for more than 20 years and narrates at many of the village’s events, explained that the shrine was symbolic of “the god of everything” and that the children’s procession was an appeal for a prosperous and healthy year.
Japanese men and women performed an eisa dance, a type of folk dance exclusive to the Ryukyu Islands, and a local men’s organization demonstrated bo jitsu, a local ceremonial martial art, Epperson said.
A flag-bearer competition and procession of torches lit up the field as many locals joined in the swirl around two poles, one topped by an image of a Marine devil dog with knife between his teeth.
The night ended with an ornate display of costumes, then the giant tug-o-war — with the crowd’s participation strongly encouraged. Their help was needed: The rope weighed more than eight tons and was about 100 meters long, according to festival officials.