Dragon Boat bell rings in Okinawa summer
The most exciting events taking place in Okinawan fishing ports throughout the prefecture during the early summer are the dragon boat races called “Haarii” using traditional fishing boats called “Sabani.”
Local Okinawan fishermen traditionally hold the Haarii races at their fishing ports in all parts of the island to pray for abundant catches and safe seafaring. Okinawan people say that the Haarii bell that sounds the pace for the paddlers on a haarii boat also rings in the beginning of the summer season.
The most notable of these races is “Itoman Haarii” that takes place every May 4th of the lunar calendar, which this year is Monday, May 29th. The event features dragon boat races in different categories, including high school students against teachers, and races featuring rival areas of Itoman City.
The first race starts at 10:00 and heats continue throughout the day until 16:00. The most unique feature of Itoman Haarii races is “Kunnukase” that is unique to Itoman. In it, the 12-member crews of the racing teams dive into the water at the halfway point of the race and turn their boat upside down. They then straighten the sabani up, bail the water out and start to race again.
Another special events is a race to catch a live duck with bare hands while swimming. It takes cunning and skill, as the competitor has to approach the duck from below in order to catch it before it realizes what is happening.
The Itoman Haarii is not an event to be missed, as crowds of spectators flock to the southern Okinawa city for this day of colorful fisherman (called “uminchu” in Okinawan) activities, folk music and of course, foods. The action takes place starting in the morning at Itoman Fishing Port. Admission is free for the races, but food and drink purchases cost.
Originally, Haarii was a festival for praying for the bumper fish catch and voyage safety of fishermen. In recent years, it has become popular again and has become an event in which women, children, and also visitors can also participate.