Text: KT: We have a giant tug-of-war, like literally a million people pulling at a single rope at a time. It happens every year, just for fun.
AT: To symbolize what, were you celebrating something?
KT: No idea, maybe we were. But every year there is a rope that is about 3 meters in diameter, and there are offsets of ropes that pull out. And it’s literally a million people, and they shut down the biggest freeway on the island and they see which side wins. And you can just pick whatever side you want. There’s people climbing on the ropes and shouting, it just gets really crazy.
AT: Does someone usually win?
KT: Oh yeah, every time. And there’s usually like three deaths every year. They just don’t give a shit. Five-year-old me was terrified, it’s very dangerous.
Context: KT was born in Okinawa, Japan and lived there with his Japanese mother and British father for the first nine years of his life. Though memories of his time in Japan are fading as KT ages, he still remembers specific things about life in Japan that were ingrained on his young mind during his early years. The folklore above was shared over lunch one afternoon during which I asked KT if he thought he had any folklore he could share with me from Japan. Most of the material he remembers is because he either got in trouble for going against the superstition or his involvement in the practice scared him. In this case, the practice scared him.
Interpretation: KT doesn’t remember the specifics of this festival due to his young age during the time of his participation. He remembers the practices of it, not the festival’s purpose, which is understandable for a child. KT did a good job of providing a primary account of the methodology that goes along with fighting over the largest ropes in the world. Though he thought the people of Okinawa were participating in this large-scale game just for fun, the festival has actually been around for hundreds of years. Tugs-of-war were once held throughout the island to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and to pray for rain. Everyone in the community took part in these rituals symbolizing Okinawa’s spirit of yuimaaru (cooperation). It can be assumed that the festival isn’t as important to the harvest as it used to be, but it still exists as a symbol of Okinawan community.