World’s Largest Tug of War

This past weekend with 25,000 of my closest friends, I participated in the Naha Tug of War. This is my favorite cultural festival, mainly because it is a bonding event open to the entire community of young, old, local, and expat.

Each year, the crowds face off in a test of ultimate strength. The goal is basic. Pull as hard as you can and bring your side to victory.


Man handing out smaller ropes attached to massive one


In 1997, this event was recorded as the world’s largest in The Guinness Book of World Records. Woven from rice fibers, the rope takes 2 months to create. It weighs 45 tons (~ 90,000 pounds) and is 200 meters long (~600 feet). The rope stretches like an enormous snake down several downtown city blocks. Because the rope is so massive, participants pull on 200 smaller ropes attached to it. The rope is bigger than cars!

The Naha Matsuri, Tug of War Festival dates back to the 17th century. At the time, legend has it that one village had a massive insect infestation which threatened the crops. The mayor requested everyone to offer ideas to expel the insects. A very wise elderly man suggested creating a huge commotion to drive the bugs away. So villagers created a giant rope and met in the infested field with every noise making device they  had. They stomped on the ground, beat pots and pans, lit torches, and chanted until the bugs finally left the area.

Today, the festival represents a commitment to the island’s unique cultural and ethnic heritage.

The day’s events begin with a parade of men carrying hatagashira, or decorative poles. One man balances the 50 kg pole erect during the procession, while surrounding men are ready with long sticks to catch the pole if it falls.

Accompanying the groups of men are children dancing and performing karate. There are also sanshin players (banjo) and strolling musicians.

There are even miniature poles for groups of little boys to carry.

I feel so fortunate that I got to participate in this amazing event, and guess what? My side won!

What’s your favorite cultural festival? Do you have a special event that makes you feel like you’re part of the community?

51 thoughts on “World’s Largest Tug of War

  1. Oh my gosh, what fun! I love events like this that bring the community together, and also goes back with a great history and traditions. Thanks for sharing this lovely tale for my Tuesday 🙂

  2. Gina Mortenson

    Beautiful photos…they are the perfect compliment to your post. I love events that bring the community together…congratulations on your big win and being Freshly Pressed!

  3. Pingback: Can’t wait to go back… « La Poubelle

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Wineguider,
      Thanks for your question! It’s just a test of strength! One side has to pull the other 15 feet and a victor is declared!

  4. Spiral

    Great photos. Tug of War seems to be back fashionable in bootcamp right now. That looks like a lot of fun and hope it still keeps the bugs away.

  5. Great, great photos! Insight into a culture that I’m sure most people, myself included, know very little about! My own blog is dedicated to traveling (though unfortunately on a college budget/schedule) so I’m definitely staying tuned into your blog! Thanks for the entry!

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    • maryrichardson

      Yes, I love when societies hold on to their traditions vigilantly and celebrate them year after year… it was such a great event too because it brought the whole community together.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Preeti,
      As soon as the winner is announced, the crowds go crazy and start cutting up the rope. It’s literally flying in the air! No other prize though… except knowing that your side is better!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Lenny,
      Thanks for stopping by and glad you like the post! I try to post twice a week and cover different travel topics…

  7. I was so amazed to see the beautiful pictures of the biggest tug of war. This gave me so much information that I knew nothing about. I never in my life seen such information. But I think it is very useful.It looks like so much fun.

  8. SO cool 😀
    I love attending historical cultural celebrations, whatever the culture. They always offer great insight into how the people live and what is important to them.
    Hope those callouses are healing 🙂

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Souzan,
      I agree that cultural festivals tell us something about what’s important to that local group. I always think it’s fun just to see how they handle logistics too like crowd control. There’s tons of cultural information in that to be sure!

  9. winxrocker

    This looks like a lot of fun!
    There are a lot of cultural events that I like, so it’s hard to decide. In my hometown Italy there are tons and tons of festivals, so many you couldn’t count them at all!

    • maryrichardson

      I’m sure Italy has really fantastic festivals! Okinawa has them all the time too, but the Tug of War is my favorite hands down…

  10. This would be an amazing site to see. How fun would this be? It is so cool to see how people come together to do really fun, creative festivals like this. I love your photos too, they really capture what is going on there.

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