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Haari Boat Festival
Haari is a boat festival that is held on Ishigaki island in which 'Sabani' boats are raced between two points at Ishigaki's fishing port. The wooden sabani were used by Okinawan fishermen for hundreds of years and it is said that the tradition of racing these boats was imported from China. The event begins at around 8.30am with live dance performances and the races continue on until early afternoon. 2013's event will be held on Wednesday the 12th of June.
Haari is a one day festival which takes place during the last week of May or the first week of June, with the exact date being determined by the lunar calendar. 2009's haari took place on Wednesday the 27th of May, just before the end of Ishigaki's short rainy season.
The events of the day which receive the most attention are those in which rival groups of fishermen compete. Some of these races involve the boats being intentionally capsized by the rowers, who then flip the boats back over before scrambling back onboard.
Crowds of supporters cheer on their favorite teams as the boats make their way back to the finish line and the commentator's calls of 'sit down so that people at the back can see' apparently fall on deaf ears. Celebrations are unrestrained as the victors proudly row their boats up and down in front of the supporters' area while waving their team's flag.
Although the festival originated among fishermen, it is now open to anybody and many hotels, bars and local businesses have teams which compete against each other throughout the day. This has made haari an extremely popular local event and thousands of people turn out ever year to witness the races.
Haari is a fantastic festival which is highly recommended to those who wish to experience a bit of Okinawan culture. It is also extremely well organised, with waiting times between races being kept to a minimum. It is advised to bring an umbrella along as haari usually falls within Ishigaki's rainy season and sheltered areas are sparse. A good selection of snacks, sweets and beverages are sold at market stalls situated behind the spectator area. Anybody may view the races, and entrance is free of charge.
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