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Secret In The Map #11: Tug of War in Yonabaru

When was the last time you enjoyed a game of tug-of-war? Perhaps it was in your junior high P.E. class, or maybe it was with your four-legged pal in the backyard. Well, I encourage you to take that same enthusiasm you had about the game many months ago, or yesterday, and channel it into pulling a much larger and heavier rope alongside hundreds of others sharing the same excitement. Okinawa’s tug-of-war is not something to be overlooked. The original competition of pulling a giant rope back and forth began in the 1500s between two royals of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Today, two competing teams are divided by region, for example, East v.s. West. The tradition is proudly continued by the Okinawan people, with help from non-Okinawan friends. Anyone is welcome to participate at no charge!

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What is Otsunahiki?

While driving around the island, you may have spotted some rope looped around someone’s rearview mirror, or perhaps decorated elsewhere. Maybe you’ve seen them in restaurants or houses. And if you have inquired about it, they may have gleefully entertained you with their tale of participating in the Otsunahiki (大綱引き) and bringing a piece of the otsuna home to keep as a token for good fortune. 

Otsuna is made up of two words, o (long o sound like, oh no) and tsuna.

大 (おお)(o) = big or large, i.e. giant
綱 (つな) (tsuna) = rope
大綱 (おおつな) (otsuna) = giant rope

Otsunahiki is the Giant Tug-of-War

To explain the last word, hiki (引き) (ひき) – it means pull. “Tsunahiki” in English is “tug-of-war”. Therefore, the phrase otsunahiki collectively means giant tug-of-war. 

One of the tug-of-war events in Okinawa is so large that it has found itself a spot in the famous Guinness Book of World Records. They are still proudly sharing that accomplishment with attendees today. 

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To find yourself among hundreds, or thousands, pulling one giant colossal rope, through cries of triumph and joy, hoping to win but nevertheless gratified no matter the outcome … would make for an exceptional memory. And to be able to take home a souvenir from the actual prop, the famous Guinness-recognized giant rope! It’s named “best straw rope in the world” by the Guinness Book of Records. It was given that name in 1995. No matter your ancestral roots or where you hail from, people all over the world gather as one for this lively contest.

Atop the undeniable unity, the event originally was held to bring prosperous harvests and good fortune in the coming year. You may have noticed the significance of spirituality in the Okinawa culture. Joining in the commotion of these tug-of-war festivals may guide you to or near a similar divine mood, whatever that may mean to you. 

The Festivals You Don’t Want To Miss

Otsunahiki festivals are held in Naha, Yonabaru, and Itoman. Plus, other communities hold their respective tug-of-war competitions. Does your neighbourhood have one? If you miss one, there is a good chance another one is right around the corner. Be sure to mark your calendar so you don’t miss out on these must-experience festivals! In the Okinawa story map, the hidden symbol of the rope is in Yonabaru town. Yonabaru is known as being a big otsunahiki town as their largest festival is their giant tug-of-war festival. The town even built an otsunahiki museum for this proud tradition. The largest one in Okinawa and the world record-breaking festival can be found every year in Naha. 

So come and show off your muscle gains from this year at any of these festivals or stand by to provide your loudest cheers of encouragement. Hope to see you at one soon!

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**The information in this article is written by the designer of the Okinawa Story Map based personal experience. It does not aim to be 100% accurate or academically correct. Please enjoy the stories and feel free to contact us if you have any questions regarding this article.