There are many cultures that embrace the art of dance, and Okinawa is one of those cultures that has cherished it throughout its time and history. From the prominent classical dance Yotsutake to the theatrical dancing style of Kumi-odori, Okinawa is a culture that embraces the art and has implemented it deep into its roots, with music, art, and dance an integral part of Okinawans and Okinawan culture. In this article, the Eisa dance, a folk dance that has survived tribulations and hardships, will be explained and given recognition… It is, after all, one of Okinawa’s important dances.
With such a significant hold on Okinawan culture, what exactly is Eisa? Put simply, eisa is a folk dance that is usually conducted during a Obon festival that respects the dead through joyous movement and music. Eisa is also a common dance for other festivities as many Okinawans have learned this style. However, this dance style is prominently utilized at the Obon (specifically the last day) to bid the ancestors farewell, aka michi-junee. Nonetheless, eisa is also found to be used in small gatherings and other festivities, despite its origins.
Eisa, in its rich and diverse history, has to pay homage to the Buddhists, as the dance’s origins trace back to this. The chanting, drums, and dance all were influenced by the teachings of Buddhism, taking particular note to nembutsu songs and chants.
Eisa has transformed from the past to current history; while traditional eisa is still danced, with chanting, drums, and sanshin, eisa also has made an appearance in some newer renditions and versions of its traditional style. During the 10,000 Eisa parade, one can see the many different styles that have branched from the original and see both young and old dance to the rhythm.
History has also shown a significant alteration to the traditional Eisa, with many of the dance’s fanatics and lovers banning together to form clubs to celebrate and make anew the cultural dance form. After World War II, many started to form groups and perform showy, flashy Eisa-esque performances, all derived from this particular dance. It had become so widely popular that there were competitions for this– however, the competitions subsided around the 1970s, but has been making a comeback in recent years.
While eisa may have changed throughout time, there are staples that make this dance its own unique style… And it’s not just the dance, itself! One of the most distinguishable characteristics that encompasses this design is the use of drums. While mainland Japan is known for their large taiko drums, Okinawa’s Eisa is unique in the sense that it utilizes 3 types of drums– the odaiko (large drum), shimedaiko (medium drum), and paranku (small drum). Each drum gives off a different timbre when played and gives extra depth to Eisa.
Besides the Obon festival being heavily celebrated with the dance, Eisa has a festival just for itself called the 10,000 Eisa Dance Parade. The 1,000 performers utilized in this big event auditioned and trained for 2 months, learning the choreography, forming camaraderie with their fellow dancers, and preparing to take to the streets of Kokusai, Naha’s main boulevard for this very day. With adrenaline rushing through their veins and hearts syncing to the beat of the drums, onlookers and performers alike celebrate and participate in Okinawa’s rich and diverse culture.
Overall, there are many dance styles and branches that make up Okinawa’s culture, but one of the most well-known and influential styles is none other than Eisa. With its origins tracing back to Buddhist chanting and mantras to its transformation of club activities and festivities, Eisa will forever hold an integral piece of what we know as Okinawa.
Cuisine, By. “What You Don’t Know about Eisa.” Okinawa Hai. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
“Kids Web Japan.” The 10,000 Eisa Dance Parade (Okinawa Prefecture). N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
“Okinawa Island Guide » Okinawan Spirit: Eisa.” Okinawa Island Guide » Okinawan Spirit: Eisa. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.