May 25, 2018
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Japan
The War of the Rope

A bloodless way to settle a battle, or bring in the harvest

WHAT: Annual 15,000-contestant tug of war WHERE: Naha, Okinawa, Japan WHEN: mid-October WHY: Guinness World Record (1997) holder for the biggest tug of war rope made of natural materials (564 feet long x 5 feet in circumference then, and getting bigger every year).

Tsunahiki, the Great Tug of War, is an annual harvest ritual in the islands of Okinawa. It was said to first symbolize a 17th-century struggle between two kings, and later held to petition the gods for a successful harvest.

Legend has it that the first tsunahiki was held after a wise old man advised a village chief that a tug of war between two rice paddy crews would rid the crop of bugs and disease. It worked.

Separate ropes are woven, one representing male and the other female. Each has a loop at the fighting end. Teams from the east and west sections of the town line up behind their respective ropes. The looped ends areĀ  joined with a large wooden pole, and men playing the ancient kings stand atop the ropes, taunting the opposing team.

Smaller ropes stream from the sides, so the contestants can tug — the main rope is actually impossible to grasp.

An gold-colored ball held aloft by a crane signals the start. Balloons and colored streamers float down over the crowds, who begin to chant and pull. Drums are beaten, whistles blow, muscles strain and the rope disappears into crowd.

In 30 minutes it’s over, with the team able to pull the rope 10 feet toward its side declared the winner. This year (2009) it’s a tie. I hope that still means an abundant harvest!

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