August 15th in the lunar calendar is the day for the mid-autumn celebration. There are quite a few harvest festivals held on this day around the islands of Okinawa.
The giant tug of war in Itoman is one of them, and it is one of three largest giant tug of wars in Okinawa. The last year’s event happened to be on Sunday, and nearly 40,000 people came for this.
The festival starts with the parade. The locals from the central area of the city dress in traditional costumes parade through the main streets.
The main performance is the groups of men carrying the big banner called HATAGASHIRA (旗頭), and they always accompany with any tug of war event in Okinawa. Each district has their own designed HATAGASHIRA, and the local group of men try to keep this 40 to 50 kilograms banner straight to the sky and shake it up and down. It is the sign of the celebration of harvesting as well as local pride.
Also, children and women from each neighborhood perform traditional dances and go through the street.
After the parade, the groups of HATAGASHIRA perform all together to set the stage for the tug of war.
Since anyone can participate in the tug of war, around 4,000 people pulled the 180-meter in length and 1.5-meter in diameter rope. When either side pulled 10 meters or more, it wins the game. If either of them pulled 2 meters or more but less than 10 meters in 30 minutes, it also wins. If either of them couldn’t pull 2 meters or more, it ends in a tie.
The tug of war is held as the means of their appreciation to the nature giving them food, wishing for good health and catching loads of fish since Itoman is a fishing town. As it is believed to bring luck, people bring the rope home after the game, but don’t worry! The volunteers of the event cut the giant rope small enough for you to carry.