Published on July 28th, 2012 | by Adrian Simpson0
Rub-a-dub-dub: Japanese Wooden Tub Racing!
Welcome to Japan, where fish is eaten raw, cartoon characters have unfeasibly large eyes, and every year, 200 people gather together to take part in Japanese wooden tub racing wearing silly costumes down the Matsukawa River. This honourable tradition has been going on since 1956, when the people of the Ito City, Japan, came up with a splendid solution to the problem of what to do with all the spare tubs they had lying around.
The Ito City tub race can be seen as a brave attempt by a community to hold on to its past in the face of Japan’s rapid modernisation, as the women who had to abandon their old practices of washing clothes in wooden tubs by the river found a way to keep their memories alive. It is also a story of a load of Japanese people and tourists dressed as samurai and geishas, splashing about in ungainly, easily-capsizeable wooden craft that were never designed to be used as boats in the first place.
Guiding the ‘boats’ down the river might seem easy, considering the speed of the water rarely goes above a snail’s pace, yet the tubs are neither streamlined nor stable and often go belly up depositing their unfortunate pilots into the drink. When this happens, contestants are allowed to try and get back in the tub and continue. Meanwhile, the other tubbers will be frantically trying to propel their boats down the 400m course to victory with small wooden paddles normally used for serving rice – these guys really are the experts at getting the most out of everyday household objects!
Tub racing is not unique to Japan – the town of Rieta in Italy also holds its own annual event racing tubs downstream – but while the Rieta tub race is a testosterone-fuelled showdown between different neighbourhoods with something to prove, the Ito city race is a whole different kettle of fish, or should I say, a whole different tub of freezing cold Matsukawa River water. As the video above shows, the Ito City race is not so much a competition as a chance for city residents and foreigners alike to try their luck and their skill agains the mighty river, having fun but also remembering those hardworking washerwomen whose wooden tubs they so nobly ride (and capsize) every year.