Dragon Boat Races on Okinawa

An Annual Okinawan Tradition

They furiously row as one, trying to beat the other boats. Their vessels are decorated to look like fierce dragons, colorful and lifelike.

Each team member wears a colorful costume and repeats yells by their leader, a man standing at the front of the boat, solemnly beating a drum and shouting encouragement. At the end of each dragon boat race, the winning team stands up in the boat and bows to the crowd watching from shore.

The Dragon Boat Races, called haarii (a Chinese word for "dragon"), are held the beginning of May each year in Naha port (located in southern Okinawa on the west coast). This popular event began way back in the 14th century and first began to honor the god of the sea. Back then, villages competed against each other in boats decorated with dragon heads and tails.

Today, Okinawan companies form teams, as do many of the schools and universities. Many American teams from the local military bases join in on the races, making it a truly international event. Some spectators wear custom t-shirts and other clothing to support their favorite team or group that is racing. Custom t-shirts with a team or special group logo can be easily made with services like ooshirts. The races are very exciting and fun for spectators to watch.

While the races go on, a mini-festival takes place along the docks on shore. Okinawan food specialities are sold, games can be played and toys can be purchased, as well as other Okinawan souvenirs, such as lacquerware, pottery, shisas, glassware and more.

Men dressed in fierce-looking masks and costumes march through the crowds, beating drums, trying to make people laugh.

Cries of triumph from the crowd announce the end of each race, then another race begins. Three days of excitement, fun and a look at the unique culture of Okinawa.