Crash Course: Eisa

Obon in Okinawa ended yesterday, a week after that of mainland Japan, but I am sure the echoes of eisa music can still be heard around the island.

Eisa is considered a Bon dance, meaning a dance that is performed during the Obon season to honor the spirits of the ancestors. In modern-day Okinawa, however, eisa has become something of an island identity. You can find eisa clubs, eisa lessons and eisa performances at numerous spots throughout the prefecture. My recollection of eisa in Okinawa is hearing the relentless thump of the drums drifting through the air on hot summer evenings as local troupes practiced (often for months) for their neighborhood Bon festival.

An eisa performer
An eisa performer

Eisa music involves a lot of drumming, a lot of whistling and a very catchy, very easy lyric (“Ay-ee-sa-sa, aye-ya” or something similar) repeated over and over. There are usually a variety of drums used by one eisa troupe, including odaiko (large drums) and shimedaiko (medium-sized drums). Some eisa dancers also use small hand-held drums called paranku, though these are most commonly used in the central Nakagami District.

Along with Obon season, eisa is also performed at the island’s bullfights (mostly in the stadium in Ishikawa) and year-round at the ANA Manza Beach Hotel and at the Okinawa World cultural theme park in the southern half of the island. As eisa is something that has become such an important part of the Okinawan cultural identity, I highly advise seeking out whatever chance you have to see this catchy dance performance for yourself.

An eisa performance at Ryukyu Mura
An eisa performance at Ryukyu Mura

You can learn a bit more about eisa on Okinawa at this website.

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