On the Fourth Month of the Fifth day1 by the lunar calendar, places all over Okinawa hold their Festivals to the Sea, which included a boat race, the Hārī. In Itoman, it’s called the Hārē. On Yonaguni Island, the three villages compete with one another in the Hārī. While the race takes place over a celebration, the competition means that people take it very seriously; in 1989, a village-to-village confrontation over the result of the race caused the festival to nearly discontinue.
This is my favorite time of year in Okinawa. Though I should say that by “Okinawa” I don’t mean the main island but rather the Yaeyama Islands far to the south.
When Yaeyama’s rainy season ends, the burning sun shines down uninterrupted on the islands. Fluffy rain-bearing clouds disappear overnight and in their place, the sky stretches high overhead. During this season, it’s not just the trees and grasses but also cattle, mountain goats, people—we all take joy in this shower of light.
I have rowed a hārī boat—爬竜船, a crawling dragon boat—three times in my life. I kept up with the rowing rhythm for the first twenty meters or so, but after that, my oar started banging into my neighbors’ oars, or I accidentally scooped water into the boat—I was a disastrous rower. But in the heat of rowing to the sound of gongs and drums, I can’t help feeling like I’ve become a proper uminchu on the high seas.
Even just to spectate, the ladies of the island, who up to the night before turned out with limp hair, show up in perms, and the ojii of the islands come to watch the festivities in freshly-starched shirts and shoes shined to a sparkle—you can see in their care just how excited they are for these festivals. Our joys aren’t only limited to the Hārī, though. The festivals of the islands serve as the means by which we keep the rhythms of each passing year.
- By the contemporary Gregorian calendar, Naha holds its Hārī over the Japanese early summer holidays of Golden Week, from May 3rd to May 5th.