Ungami Festival in Shioya Bay of Okinawa. Boat Racing Festivity!



Okinawa is the most southern part of Japan and is a unique place with its own culture, climate and dialect. If you are looking to see a tropical paradise and know more about local culture you should visit Okinawa and join Ungami Festival in Shioya Bay. This article will introduce you to this festivity!

Same as in other countries, Japan is also a country in which there are a lot of dialects depending on the area. It seems that all the people can understand general Japanese language spoken on TV news or drama broadcast from Tokyo, but people in Tokyo or people from other places might not understand the dialects spoken in the Northeast or Southwest area of Japan. Intonation is also different depending on the area. The dialects and intonation spoken in Okinawa are different from the standard Japanese too. Okinawa is situated in the Southwest of Japan, and it consists of few small islands. Okinawa with a tropical and exotic atmosphere is always a top rank as the place people would like to visit and travel.

This time, I would like to introduce you a praying festival to a Sea God in Okinawa. It is “Ungami” (海神) . This festival is held in Shioya Bay (塩屋湾), Ogami Village(大宜味村) in the northern part of Okinawa, where it takes two hours by car from Naha airport (那覇空港).

Outline of “Ungami” Festival

“Ungami” Festival (海神祭) is held every year in the seventh month of lunar calendar following the Bon (盆) season, which is the event to pray to ancestors in summer. “Ungami” Festival is a praying ceremony the for productiveness of grain and state of perfect health. It started 500 years ago.

At this festival, at the beginning, the ceremony of “Welcoming God” is held,
and it is often said that this festival is women centered festival, women who are called “Kaminchu” (神人) pray to a Sea God to come here and visit on the eve of the festival.

In the next morning, people put a pole at the center of the square in the sacred place, called “Asagi” (アサギ), and spread leaves of basho (banana plant) on the ground. The Kaminchu (神人) holding bows (arches 弓) in their hands move around a pole 7 rounds to pray for a good harvest, chanting “Yonkoi, yonkoi”. After a little break, they resume it in white clothing and try another 6 rounds.

Festival Highlight – “Uganbari” Boat Race

The highlight of the festival is the boat rowing competition, called “Uganbari”(ウガンバリ) held in Shoya bay. This is a kind of ceremony of “Escorting a sea god for returning”. A “Uganbari” is a dragon boat, and a dragon’s head and tail ornament is at the front and back part of a boat.

There are two sizes of Uganbari boats. 20 men can ride on a smaller Ubangari boats, and usually young men ride on it. In another size of boat, 40 men are available, and skilled men row a boat. Three villages participate in this competition, and each village has a smaller boat’s team and a larger size boat team.

The distance of the competition is 800 meters, and it’s distance is very tough physically. This is a kind of a ceremony, however; a competition is a competition. All the participants do their best to arrive faster. You must be excited to look at this boat race, especially a larger boat race. So powerful and strong.

The point you should pay an attention is not only men who row a boat. Women who support and cheer men up are also so great and powerful. Women beat drums soaring half of their bodies in the sea.

Basic Information

Taminato Ogamison, Kunikami-gun, Okinawa-ken

0980-44-2453 (Ogamison Shioya Community center 大宜味村塩屋区公民館)

Closing Remarks

When you look at “Uganbari” boat race I recommended you to watch the race from the slightly high hill called “Harmingzo” (ハーミンゾー). Watchng from here, you can overlook all the state of the boat race.
The boat look like that big centipedes (Mukade, ムカデ) approach you. A very high speed of the boats will surprise you!.

Different from the old days, young people in Shioya-bay move to outside areas looking for jobs. But we hear that people come back to the village when “Uganbari” festival takes place. The passion and desire of the local people for the festival are so strong and the mind trying to preserve the tradition that ancient people have built up is so deep.

Please visit and enjoy this festival.

Would you like to enjoy japanese water festivals?

Being a country surrounded by the ocean and having many water resources, Japan has a deep relationship with water. That is why there are many festivals based on “water” theme. And those festivals are happening not only in summer. If you like water and want to become a part of energetic festivity, the following article will introduce you to 10 best water festivals in Japan!
Check it here! URL:


l am living in Nagoya, the third largest city located between Tokyo and Osaka. I am looking forword to introducing you about wonderful festivals in Japan.

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