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Dancing at Japanese Festivals


The 10,000 Eisa Dance Parade (Okinawa Prefecture)

photo Performers play drums large and small as they dance. (Tourist Association of Tokushima City)

The islands that make up Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, have their own culture and customs that are different from the rest of the country. One example of unique Okinawan culture is a famous dance called eisa.

Eisa is a traditional dance with a long history. It originates from a folk song that used to be sung several hundred years ago. The dance style was passed down by groups of young people who would pay respect to their ancestors each summer by marching through their neighborhoods while playing taiko drums.

photo A large procession of eisa dancers. (Tourist Association of Tokushima City)

The unique rhythms and movements of eisa are accompanied by the beating of drums and a beautiful, lively dance that involves the whole body. Recently some people have started using rock and pop music instead of just traditional music to create popular new styles of dance known as "creative eisa."

Nowadays many shows are held in which various groups gather to perform eisa with their own unique music and dance styles. One of the largest of these productions, Summer Festival in Naha: The 10,000 Eisa Dancers' Parade, was started in 1995. The event takes place on the first Sunday of August and is held on Kokusai Dori (International Street), the main street in the city of Naha.

photo The eisa is popular with children too. (Tourist Association of Tokushima City)

A variety of eisa-related events take place during the weeklong festivities nicknamed Eisa Week, and the 10,000 Eisa Dancers' Parade is the main attraction. With an interesting mix of old and new, the parade is a wild and exciting dance competition. You're sure to see quite a few kids working up a sweat while they dance like crazy.

At the end of the parade comes a large-group dance called the Eisa Pageant. A group of 1,000 selected participants practice for two months to perform the same movements together. This show makes for a great finale, with people up and down the street dancing to the beat of the taiko drum. It really is a breathtaking sight: more than 100,000 excited people lining the street under the hot Okinawan sun.

Of course, as a tourist you won't be able to participate in a dance that requires two months of practice. But anyone can drop in and participate in the Niwaka Eisa Dance Group. After about two hours of practice, you'll be able to perform eisa in front of some spectators. It costs 1,500 yen to participate in the group.

Access

A flight from Tokyo to Naha, on Okinawa Island, takes about two and a half hours. The monorail ride from Naha Airport to Kokusai Dori takes 20 minutes.

For further information: Okinawa Tourist Information Website