DANCING IN THE STREETS
Summer Is Eisa Festival Time in Okinawa (August 13, 2003)
August is a time when Okinawa
basks in tropical sunshine and when the people of the islands participate in spectacular
dance parades. Eisa festivals are thrilling summer
events that blow away the heat and excite the souls of the Uchinanchu,
as the people of Okinawa call themselves. At the festivals, people beat drums
and sing songs to the sounds of the sanshin (an Okinawan
string instrument); men perform a bold dance that incorporates karate moves, while
women perform graceful dance moves. There is also the chondara
procession dance, which never fails to bring smiles to the faces of spectators.
Each of these dances has an essential role in the eisa
|Aneisa festival (Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Partying Until the Early Hours
In Okinawa, where ancestor worship has deep roots, the spirits of a family's ancestors
are said to return to the family home at the time of the bon
festival (according to the old lunar calendar, the bon
festival this year falls on August 10 to 12). This is the busiest time of the
year for Okinawan families, who prepare to welcome their ancestors with banquets
and drinks. Traditionally, the eisa festivals took
place on the third night of the bon festival and were
rituals for sending off the ancestors' spirits as they return to the spirit world.
In towns and villages, youth groups gather at community centers and set off to
parade past houses, dancing to the rhythm of drums as they go. The dance fever
lasts until well into the night.
|Shuri Castle (Okinawa Commemorative National Government Park Office)
Men dance with all their might, oblivious to the sweat pouring from their brows,
and the sight of their brave performance touches the hearts of the women. The
enchanting dances performed by the women, meanwhile, which feature intricate hand
moves, captivate the men. There have been many cases of men and women finding
love through eisa festivals, and there is even a local
word - eisanibichi - for marriages that come about
Much of the beauty of eisa festivals derives from
the brightly colored costumes that are unique to each locality. Some eisa
troupes have retained their traditional costumes for over 300 years. The dance
moves and music of the festivals also vary widely from place to place.
Nowadays, eisa festivals are held all over Okinawa
in August, with eisa troupes gathering to impress
spectators with the dances they have spent many hours perfecting. These events
are a highlight of summer sightseeing on the islands. The All-Island Eisa Festival,
which is in its forty-eighth year and will be held on August 16 and 17 in Okinawa
City, draws eisa troupes from all over Okinawa Prefecture
and attracts more than 200,000 spectators. Eisa festivals
continue until the end of August, including one featuring original eisa
dances performed by young people in Naha
City on August 23 and 24 and one featuring dances performed by children in
Okinawa City on August 23.
|Makishi Public Market (Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Traditional Arts Reflect Okinawa's Heritage
Okinawan people distinguish themselves from those from mainland Japan, whom they
call Yamatonchu (meaning people of Yamato, an old
name for Japan). Following a period of rivalry among local warlords, the islands
that now make up Okinawa were unified as a single nation, the Ryukyu Kingdom,
in 1429. Ryukyu prospered through trade with such partners as Southeast Asian
countries, China, Korea, and Japan. These historical experiences fostered a unique
culture that still thrives in Okinawa's festivals, traditional arts and crafts,
folklore, and everyday life.
The Ryukyu Kingdom continued to prosper as a trading nation, but from 1609 it
was ruled by the Satsuma clan (modern-day Kagoshima) of Kyushu. After the Tokugawa
shogunate fell and the Meiji government came to power in Japan, in 1879 the Ryukyu
Kingdom was incorporated into Japan as Okinawa Prefecture, bringing an end to
450 years of history.
Okinawa was the only part of Japan to experience a land battle in World War II,
and some 150,000 Okinawans - about a quarter of the total population - died in
the war, including from hunger and disease. After the war, Okinawa was ruled by
the United States before returning to Japan in 1972, 27 years after the war ended.
An Exotic Atmosphere and a Unique Culture
Shuri Castle, the home of the Ryukyu kings, was extensively damaged in the Battle of Okinawa.
It was restored to its former glory, however, in 1992. The palace, whose design
is completely different from those of Japanese castles and is closer to those
of the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, reminds
visitors of the region's status as a trade hub in the Ryukyu era.
A good way to experience modern Okinawa is to walk down Kokusai-dori, the main
street of Naha City. This street was the first to be rebuilt after the war and
became such a vibrant commercial center that it earned the nickname "Miracle
Mile." The citizens of Naha love passing time wandering among the area's
department stores, restaurants, beer halls, souvenir shops, and cinemas.
On a back street near Kokusai-dori is the Makishi Public Market. This is a bustling
district where a maze of crisscrossing streets are filled with stalls selling
all kinds of goods. Walking past rows of shops selling exotic tropical fruits
and fish of extraordinarily bright primary colors, visitors might be forgiven
for thinking they had stumbled into a market in Southeast Asia.
Eisa and other traditional Okinawan arts are sustained
by the unique melodies of the islands' music and have lost none of their originality.
Thanks to this rich musical heritage, in recent years Okinawan songs and artists
have had considerable success in Japan's pop charts. Okinawan culture is gaining
increasing recognition for its exceptional color and vitality.
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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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