Gallery: Okinawa hosts world's biggest tug-of-war
More than 250,000 people sweated it out on the streets of Naha on Okinawa’s main island on October 7 for a competition with near 600-year-old roots, and which also happens to feature a world record that’s unlikely to be topped.
They were taking part in the 42nd Naha Great Tug-of-War Festival, the centerpiece of annual seasonal rites that date to the 15th century. It's a ritual from the Ryukyu Kingdom, which once ruled the Okinawan islands.
An actor playing Sho Hashi, the monarch who united the kingdom, makes an appearance before the tug-of-war begins.
Divide and conquer
Organizers divide the crowd into two teams -- East and West -- and the heaving mass of humanity takes over the Kumoji Intersection of Route 58.
Participants lug ropes called ozuna (male rope, always on the East side) and mezuna (female rope, West) into place to form a giant whole.
In case you're wondering, participants aren't gender-segregated like the ropes are -- the tugging is one big free-for-all.
“The rope itself probably takes half a year to make,” says Akimitsu Miyazato of the Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s really heavy -- 43 tons.”
At 200 meters long, there’s plenty of room for the thousands of locals, visitors and U.S. military stationed on Okinawa to pitch in and grab a strand.
Since 1997, Guinness World Records has named the rope as the world’s largest straw rope used in a tug-of-war -- an important distinction Okinawans make when comparing their event to mass tugs on lesser ropes.
The hard part begins once participants use a heavy, solid-wood pin to join together the loops at the end of each rope.
Team members young and old start pulling on a network of smaller ropes, shouting, “Haaiya! Haaiya!”
Uniformed men stand on top of the giant knot and act as cheerleaders for either side.
“It’s usually about 15,000 to 20,000 people actually pulling the ropes,” says Michael Martin of the American Chamber of Commerce in Okinawa.
“We have a 30-minute game. And if they pull five meters, one team wins,” says Miyazato.
“But it’s really hard to win. Usually, 30 minutes is not enough time.”
There was a winner in last year’s tug-of-war, with the West emerging victorious, if a little tired and sweaty.
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