Eisa of Okinawa

Tradition lives on through music and dance

 By Kylie P Giggins   Dec 11, 2016

To the south of the main Islands of Japan, you will find the cluster of Okinawan Islands.  As you step foot off the aircraft as you land in Okinawa, you discover right from the beginning that it is definitely a very different vibe to landing in Tokyo.  Not the normal hustle and bustle of a busy airport of transient travelers, but a more distinct feel of many visitors from mainland Japan and overseas who have come to soak up the gorgeous atmosphere, beaches and islands.  

There are no rail systems joining the airport to take you to nearby cities.  In fact the rail system simply consists of a monorail.  Even within Okinawa there is so much diversity.  Most commonly known is the capital of Naha, and it's main street of shopping and food places called Kokusai Dōri.  If you get a chance you must visit Kokusai Dōri on a Sunday when they close the street to traffic and it becomes a shopping, food and entertainers delight.  During the year you will be privileged to witness different cultural and music groups as you walk through the main street.  One such group is Eisa.

There is a distinct sound to the beat of Japanese drums with the rhythm and dance of Eisa.  The backdrop is the local Family Mart convenience store.  Among the busy weekend trading, locals and tourists line the streets for authentic traditional food and souvenirs and modern day manga, anime and sweet shops   The atmosphere is loud and vibrant.  But the beat of the drum as the music begins stops onlookers.  They stand in silence and are entertained by the ancient tradition.  Unique sounds and rhythm and a combination of both young and older musicians perform.   This time they are here to raise money for the Kumamoto earthquake fund.   But you will also see Eisa particularly during the Summer months and as the traditional Obon celebrations occur in Japan to farewell ancestral spirits.  

The Eisa tradition has existed for hundreds of years and there is no sign of it being lost as ancestors and traditions continue to be honoured by both young and old Eisa members.  

Photography by Kylie P Giggins
Japan Travel Member

Join the discussion