The rope used in this tug-of-war is the biggest rope made from natural materials in the world, and in 1995 it was recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as "the world's biggest rope made from rice straw". Later, on the occasion of the 27th Naha Giant Tug-of-war Festival, the record was updated to confirm that the rope is 186 metres long, has a total weight of 40.22 tonnes, a diameter of 1.58 metres, and approximately 236 handles, while the event featured 15,000 tuggers and about 275,000 participants. I'll be reporting on this, the hottest festival in Okinawa, from the preparations before the event begins right up to the finale. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the Naha Giant Tug-of-war Festival.
The Naha Giant Tug-of-war takes place every year over three days, starting on Saturday and ending on Health and Sports Day (the second Monday in the month). On the second day, rows of flags wave gallantly along Naha's main street, Kokusai Dori, and the Guinness World Record breaking biggest tug-of-war event in the world is held on Route 58, with the best of the action centered on Kumoji Crossing. The sight of tens of thousands of people joining together, regardless of age, gender, or nationality, and enjoying a tug-of-war among the fluttering flags is definitely the highlight of the festival. But it makes you wonder, how on earth do they get that giant rope ready?! First of all, they start by taking away the divide from the centre of the highway. This takes place in the dead of night at 1:00am. The focus on safety is impressive, as the holes left in the road are covered with metal plates which are even welded on.
And then at 3 o'clock in the morning, the trailers that carry the giant rope finally arrives! Actually, this giant rope is made in two separate pieces which are joined together at the start of the festival. And each piece is 93 metres long, weighs 20 tonnes, and has a diameter of 1.58 metres. The two halves of the rope are placed one at the north and one at the south of the crossing. The trailers are also brought specially from Japan's mainland. It takes 3 cranes to lift the rope, which take turns to lift each half of rope while the trailer manoeuvres around, a task which is carried out to perfect timing. By this point, it's already 4 in the morning. I've got a bit of a thing for giant structures like this, and I was so excited that regardless of how early it was, I was getting more and more awake.
The Naha Giant Tug-of-war is a battle between East and West. The East and West halves of the rope are lowered down tail first, and just before the head of the ropes reach the ground, hand trucks are brought over to the crossing. There's a reason for the rope being kept suspended like this. By the way, this is the female half of the rope. As the rope is completely lowered to the ground, the sun is starting to rise. It's already 06:30am... To prepare myself for the main event, I head back to the hotel and take a quick nap.
Finally the morning of the main event arrived. There wasn't a trace left behind of the intense preparations that had taken place at Kumoji Crossing in the dead of the night... Except the posts of the central reservation had disappeared and been replaced with the giant rope. And then from 3 o'clock in the afternoon, from Matsuyama Crossing to the east and Izumisaki Crossing to the west traffic is restricted, transforming the area surrounding Kumoji Crossing into a pedestrian's paradise. At last, the curtain raises on the Naha Giant Tug-of-war.
At this point in the proceedings, the rope is still separated into two pieces... So first on the agenda is tsunayose - connecting the two halves of rope together at the crossing. The red cross marks the centre of the rope. Somehow I managed to end up near the heart of the rope, right in the middle. After the two ropes are in place, next on the scene is kanuchibou - the giant wooden pole which holds the two ropes together. As the ropes are joined, the kusudama (a huge paper ball filled with colourful streamers) is broken and the tug-of-war begins!
smaller ropes are attached, and these are what the participants use to tug in this fight from east to west. Tourists are also welcome to grab on to one of these smaller ropes and join in, but it can be difficult to make your way through the massive crowd and get your hands on one. It's best to get in there as quickly as you can after the traffic is stopped and secure your place at a rope as early as possible. The battle usually ends after about 30 minutes, when one of the two teams has pulled the rope 5 metres in their direction. But this rope is seriously huge, and it can be pretty difficult to tell which direction it's moving in. And since there are so many people, from further away you can't even tell there's a rope there at all.