Dragon Boat Races

Right before rainy season dragged the clouds in, Fred and I ditched work early last week and grabbed one last afternoon of sun down in Naha enjoying the dragon boat races.

The dragon boat races, or haarii as they are called in Japan, are an annual Okinawan event that dates back to the 14th century. Teams of rowers race each other in dragon-shaped boats to honor the gods of the sea. The event caps off Golden Week celebrations and draws crowds from all over the island.

Spectators lined up along the sea port

When the races first began, the teams competing were from different villages around the island. Nowadays, teams are usually formed and sponsored by big companies. The U.S. military also began forming different teams to compete. Who doesn’t love a good Army vs. Navy competition?

One of the Japanese teams

I first learned about the dragon boat races when I saw a group of Americans sitting in a boat-like structure on the beach by my house pseudo rowing in the sand. I found out they were one of the teams training for the upcoming event. Apparently they train months in advance. It looked exhausting.

We battled the traffic and arrived at the port shortly before one of the races began. In true Okinawan-style, the place was bumping. The Okinawans really know how to do festivals right. There’s always something interesting to see and tons of amazing food, sweets and Orion beer. There is no greater combination.

Festival food

Truth in advertising - Orion is the local beer

The race itself was rather entertaining, although I couldn’t understand the announcers. The carved dragon boats, which are shared by all the teams, were impressive. Three teams lined up for the race that we witnessed. They paddled furiously down to one end of the port, made a sharp turnabout and headed back to the starting point. I was surprised by how fast they could move powered only by paddles.

I was pulling for the black team because prior to the race they jogged around in formation proclaiming they were “numba one!” It always amuses me when the Japanese use that English phrase, and they use it quite frequently. Even in written Japanese you’ll see the occasional “No. 1” mixed in with hiragana. Unfortunately for them, red team was numba one. There’s always next year.
Not No. 1

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    I am currently building the framework website for the naha city government, and at this current time we have not received the images, however I need to put something in as place holders. I am letting you know that I plan on downloading your images and using them only for placeholders. None of your images will be published on the actual site.

    I figured I'd give you the courtesy of letting you know. Thank you in advance for the temporary use of your beautiful images. They capture perfectly the picture of what the Naha "Hari" dragon boat races are about.


    P. L.