Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom started 500 years ago to honor the departed (deceased) spirits of one's ancestors. This Buddhist custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars. The three day event traditionally ends with a dance of joy called Bon-Odori. In Okinawa this dance is known as Eisa.
The word Eisa itself is thought to be derived from a sentence in the 14 volume of Okinawa’s oldest book called the Omorosoushi - “Iro Iro no Esa Omoro”. The Omorosoushi is a compilation old chants sung during the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Omoro were sung by male artists at the royal government and by priestesses as religious ceremonial songs. The project was started in the 1500’s by the Shuri government and when finish included the chants sung between the 12th and 17th centuries.
The Eisa dance is believed to have received influence from people teaching and spreading Buddhism through songs at farming communities in the Ryukyu Kingdom era. It takes its place as part of the Buddhist Obon observance on the third day when the community youth visit households to dance as the visiting ancestral spirits depart. In some cases the revelry can last well into the night.
It was with the abolition of clans and establishment of prefectures during the Meiji Restoration of the 1800’s that the Buddhist dances began to transform into Eisa performances in Okinawa. Then in 1956 an “Island-wide Eisa Competition” was established. This is when the youth associations from central Okinawa started competing more on costume attractiveness and drum techniques. Each group also exercised its ingenuity through performance direction and song repertoire. But upon the Reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972 the competition aspect was dropped and the Eisa Festival was established.
In the local villages and towns of Okinawa, Eisa is still performed in its traditions role as part of the Obon festivities.
But in 1995 the people of Okinawa also incorporated the Eisa dance into a celebration of summer itself. That’s when the first "Summer Festival in Naha - Ten Thousand Eisa Dance Parade" was held. With an open call inviting all those interested, a total of 8,000 performers spread out along Kokusai Street in Naha City and gave a spectacular performance. Every year the parade grows in popularity and it has become Okinawa's biggest festival.
Now during the summer holiday, for one full Eisa week, performances unfold all around the city's main avenue with the Ten Thousand Eisa Dance Parade being the main attraction. This main event is divided into three parts. The first being a showcase of Eisa groups with new styles of choreography presenting a splendid demonstration. In this part, Eisa is ever changing and every district adds their own variation to the dance. Just to show a few…
This drum troupe combines Eisa with Okinawa traditional weaponry such as sticks, Sai (a short metal trident) or nunchaku. The group has also incorporated the lion dance to bring more punch to its demonstrations.
Naha Kogane Daiko
A festive drum troupe composed mainly of women, it has the particularity of using Paranku drums and local drums.
In the second part of the festival the youth associations display traditional Eisa that has been passed on from generation to generation.
The third and final part is the unfolding of a huge "Eisa Pageant”. Having practiced under the guidance of the Ryukyu Koku Matsuri Daiko troupe for nearly a two-month span,
Date: First Sunday of August
Place: Kokusai Street (Prefectural road 39) Kencho-kitaguchi intersection - Saionbashi intersection
Organizer: Summer Festival in Naha Executive Committee
Wonder-okinawa.jp and Wikipedia
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