Dragon boat racing Okinawa-style

16 Jun 2017 in Have Fun

Discover Okinawa’s famous dragon boat festivals – including a race where boats are deliberately capsized!


Every May and June, the tropical waters of Okinawa welcome a series of dragon boat races known as hari or hare. They’re steeped in history, full of atmosphere and reserve a number of surprises for the uninitiated!

One of the oldest – and most spectacular – is Itoman Hare. Like many hari, it is held on the fourth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar (May 29th in 2017). The festival started over 500 years ago as a way to pray for safe sailing and good catches and, today, competitors still race in age-old fishing boats called sabani.

While the centrepiece is a 1.3-mile race between teams from three fishing villages, there are plenty of activities throughout the day. The most spectacular race? The Kunnukase, which involves crews deliberately capsizing their boat mid-race, clambering back in to bail out water and then paddling home as fast as possible! The wackiest? A duck-hunting race where participants dive into the water to capture the 30 ducks (and balls) released by the organizers. Anyone can take part and win prizes.

Other hari include the popular Naha Hari (May 3-5). This spectacular three-day dragon boat fiesta takes place during Golden Week and features concerts, sumo wrestling and fireworks aplenty.

It may be too late to catch a hari in 2017, but it’s not too early to start planning for next year. Several smaller races are held in the Yaeyama Islands, home to HOSHINOYA Taketomi Island. After the excitement of dragon boat racing, where better to unwind than on this small island, with your feet in the sand and stunning views of the ocean?

(image copyrights courtesy Banner image on top : Hillel Wright / Japan Times – Boats with team : Okinawaclip  – Black team with yellow lady : Copyrights 5thAF )

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