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Dancing at Japanese Festivals

The 10,000 Eisa Dance Parade (Okinawa Prefecture)

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 playingtaiko drums.

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

The unique rhythms and movements ofeisa 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 "creativeeisa." 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.

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 performeisa in front of some spectators. It costs 1,500 yen to participate in the group.

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

Eisa (dance)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Eisa of Onna, Okinawa, Village, Seragaki Youths

Eisa ( Eisaa?) is a form of folk dance unique to the people of the Ryukyu Islands. Although it is performed many times throughout the year at various festivals, Eisa performances are concentrated around lunar mid-July. This is a centuries-long tradition, to mark the end of the Obon Festival. It is danced by 2030 young men and/or women, mainly in a circle to the accompaniment of singing, chanting, and drumming by the dancers, and folk songs played on the sanshin. Three types of drums are used in various combinations, depending upon regional style: the daiko (?), a large barrel drum; the shimedaiko (?), a medium-sized drum similar to ones used in Noh theatre; and the paaranku (?), a small hand drum similar to ones used in Buddhist ceremony. The dancers also sometimes play small hand gongs and yotsutake castanets. Eisa dancers wear various costumes, usually according to local tradition and gender of the dancer; modern costumes are often brightly colored and feature a characteristic, colorful Ryky-style knotted turban. Special vests and leggings are also popular.

1 History 2 Works cited 3 See also 4 External links

The Eisa originated from a group dance called esa omoro, to which Buddhist songs and dances were later added. The primary theory on the dance's name is that it is derived from the word "Esa", from the line "Iro Iro no Esa Omoro" in volume 14 of Okinawa's "Omorosoushi", or book of ancient poems. "Eisa" was a refrain in Buddhist prayers for the dead. Though regarded today as entertainment, the Eisa originally had an important religious function of giving repose to the dead. An Eisa performance on street corners and at homes of villagers was comparable to performing a memorial service for village ancestors. Thus, the Eisa dance always began with songs, particularly of the Joudo sect, which invoked theBuddha. These songs were called "nembutsu" songs, and sung by wandering priest-substitute minstrels (ninbuchaa) and, later, priests themselves; some examples of these songs include "Mamauya Nembutsu", "Chouja nu Nagari", and "Yamabushi". Just as Buddhist priests used these songs to popularize Buddhist teachings, so did Ryky musicians begin use Eisa dancing to popularize Ryky music by replacing the Buddhist prayers with folk songs, which remain popular for Eisa accompaniment. (Ooshiro, 14, 28)



Eisaa by Manabu Ooshiro, trans. by Marie Yamazato. Yui Publishing Co. for Okinawa Department of Culture and Environment, Cultural and International Affairs Bureau, Culture Promotion Division, Naha City, 1998.



Henry Johnson (2008), "Recontextualizing Eisa: Transformations in Religious, Competition, Festival and Tourism Contexts", in Performing Japan: Contemporary expressions of cultural identity, edited by Henry Johnson and Jerry Jaffe. Folkestone, UK: Global Oriental, pp. 196-220.

"Obon Festival" at Rykyan religion.




THE Asia Society has a habit of presenting dance and music programs that not only illuminate other cultures but suggest much about cultural evolution. The program presented by Sato Takako's Ryukyuan Dance Company of Okinawa on Friday at the society's Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium was an outstanding case in point.

Seen here in its New York premiere, the company of 11 dancers and four musicians presented a wellrounded selection of court and folk dances of Okinawa as well as new choreography by Takako Sato. The

program of 14 pieces began with court dances that offered a look at Okinawan dance at its most formal. ''Kagiyadefu,'' an opening group dance from the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom of the 15th to the late 18th centuries, established the slow, deliberate pace typical of such dances as well as the strong inward focus of the performers. A sense of the performers' centeredness in invisibly circumscribed geometric space was paramount in ''Kashikaki,'' a spinning dance for two women choreographed by Chokun Tamagusuku, the 18th-century father of Okinawan court dance and opera, and ''Zei,'' a dance in the Nisei Odori or ''young men's'' style.

There was a similar formality in ''Hanafu,'' though the solo is representative of the more popular Zo Odori (''miscellaneous dances'') style that developed with the collapse of the feudal system in late 19thcentury Okinawa. Depicting a woman left alone as her beloved departs on a dangerous journey, Ms. Sato suggested sorrow and resignation almost imperceptibly with the slight tilt of the head, the touch of a hand along the edge of a just-opened parasol or a last gaze that was one of the magical moments in this impressive performance.

''Shundo,'' another court dance, was as formally constructed but offered a funny encounter between two endearing, masked ''ugly girls'' and two frozen-faced ''beautiful girls.'' ''Kanayo Amaka,'' giddily performed by Emiko Arakaki and Hisae Takamine, was an equally charming and amusing flirtation duet in the Zo Odori style. ''Takadera Manzai,'' a court dance performed by Ms. Sato, offered a vivid distillation of dramatic narrative.

There was generally less of that sense of concentration in Ms. Sato's own choreography. But dances like her ''Tsurane'' achieved the rare feat of incorporating and extending elements of the traditional, such as parallel movement and slow pivoting turns in Okinawan dance, without blurring the distinction between new and old.

The program came to a charmingly raucous close with Ms. Sato's ''Chibari Daiko,'' a chirping, chanting, abandoned group dance created for the New York engagement and named after a primitive Okinawan drum whose sound the program notes likened to a heartbeat. The effect was one of severe arrhythmia, as one audience member affectionately noted, and the exuberant performers drew cheers. May they soon return.

Okinawan dance

From the exhibit Mii gusui, mimi-gusui, curated by Norman Kaneshiro and photographed by Wayne Muromoto. Sponsored by the Center for Japanese Studies, the exhibit was held at Hamilton Library, on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus, in 2008.

- The origin of Eisa Folk Dancing, lost to history. Eisa folk dancing, the lively, rhythm-filled and youthful dances of Okinawa are said to have begun in the 17th century as Buddhist chants to accompany the Obon Festival (a festival for departed ancestors). However, there is some indication that perhaps Eisa were group dances that existed before that time, so the origin is still quite a mystery. There is some evidence to suggest that the term Eisa predates the introduction of Buddhism to the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa). In the Omoro-soushi, a compilation of ancient ballads and songs from the Okinawa and Amami Islands, the word "Yesa" is used to denote a kind of group dance accompanied by song. Because of the age of the Omoro-soushi songs, this indicates that Eisa dancing is indigenous to Okinawa. It seems that the origin of Eisa is veiled in the mists of history.

Photo : Hiroshi Shimabukuro (STUDIO PLANET)

- How were the Omoro ballads sung? The Omoro-soushi is a collection of ancient songs and ballads, some of which were originally called Umui, songs chanted by priestesses at festivals. Let's take a look at how the songs originally sounded. One of the distinctive features of the Omoro ballads is the interjection of sounds such as "Yo" and "Oi" in between the verses of the song. These are sung within the natural rhythm of breathing and in a relaxed manner. The way of singing might seem just a bit restrained. Musicologist Seihin Yamauchi suggests this may be the result of the influence of Japanese on the manner of voicing songs, so they come out sounding a bit serious. Perhaps the result of an attempt at incorporating the dignity of the mainland Japanese style. Photo : Okinawa Prefectural Museum, Hiroshi Shimabukuro

Okinawan Sentiments in 8-8-8-6 Rhyme Mainland Japanese verse is generally in the 7-7-7-5 meter, but the Okinawan 8-8-8-6 is what has come to best express the sentiment of Okinawan hearts. Japanese Tanka poetry is generally literature based while the Ryuka (Okinawan classical verse) also incorporates folk songs and ballads familiar to the people. Ryuka, though having been first formulated in the royal court, soon spread among the common folk and into their sacred rites, banquets and entertainment. In this way the 8-8-8-6 meter spread past the rigidity of its literature model. The 8-8-8-6 meter, rather than being strictly sacred or religious in nature, is people's music and entertainment. It is greatly related to the sentiments of the Okinawans.

Photo : Hiroshi Shimabukuro (STUDIO PLANET)

- Transcending 800 Years of Time and Space The Ryuka of the Omoro-soushi penetrated to the level of the common people very rapidly. In the case of the mainland's Manyoshu, somewhat akin to the Omorosoushi, it was perceived mostly as literature, not song. A long period lapsed from its compilation in the 8th century until popularization of the short ballad genre in the early part of the Edo period (1600-1868 AD). The 7-7-7-5 meter structure of the Manyoshu took 800 years to reach the common folk on the mainland while in comparison the Ryuka of the Omoro-soushi flew right into the hands of the common folk in Okinawa. It transcended the barriers of space and time in an instant.
Photo : Hiroshi Shimabukuro (STUDIO PLANET)

- Kenchu Kochi - (Tansui Uekata) 1633-1683 < The Bach of Ryukyuan Classical Music > While the Satsuma rule over the Ryukyu Kingdom, which began in the early 17th century, weighed heavily on the hearts of people, the singing and dancing arts were quite vigorous in this era. With this background, and concerned that the Ryuka traditions would become extinct because of the dominance of mainland Japanese performing arts, Tansui Uekata worked to reinvigorate Ryuka and revitalize the ancient songs. He also helped preserve the songs and methods of playing the Sanshin (Okinawan samisen). Among his many works he is noted for "Chikutenbushi", "Janna-bushi", "Shuri-bushi", "Shudunbushi", "Akatsuki-bushi", and "Hai-Chikutenbushi." - Chokun Tamagusuku - 1684-1734 < The Wagner of the Ryukyu Classical Music Era > Chokun Tamagusuku was the magistrate in charge of entertainments for the most important events in the Ryukyuan Royal court, the banquets for the Chinese investiture envoys. Entertainments for these occasions were called Ukwanshin-udui or Crown Ship Dances. During his visits to Satsuma (Kyushu) and Edo (Tokyo) he absorbed influences from Noh and Kabuki in the creation of a new Okinawan performance art. And in 1719 it was debuted as Kumiodori or Okinawan opera. It was a unique stage art created by combining Noh and Kabuki together. Tamagusuku Chokun's works include "NidoTekiuchi" (Revenge of the Two Boys), "Shushin Kane Iri" (Passion and the Bell), "Mekaru-shi" (Master Mekaru), "Koko no Maki" (Filial Piety),


and "Onna-mono-gurui" (The Madwoman). - Choki Yakabi - 1716-1775 < The Beethoven of Okinawan Classical Music > Born in 1716. He was stricken with an eye disease that later made him go blind. Yakabi was recognized as a musical genius from his childhood. On orders from the Shuri royal court he traveled to Kagoshima and, using the songs from Noh theater and Chinese music as reference, made scores for Ryukyuan music. Based on his studies, he also reformed and made additions to the Ryukyu classical music of his time. Yakabi is credited with one of the defining pieces of Ryukyuan classical music, the song "Nubui-Kuduchi". - Sekiko Chinen - 1761-1828 < Okinawa's Mozart > While not a noble by birth, Sekiko Chinen's natural genius for Okinawan classical music gained him access to the court, where he worked on the Crown Ship entertainments. He was responsible for many innovations in Ryukyuan classical music. Keeping up with the flow of the times, he made innovations in the methods of singing and playing the music as well as creating new musical compositions. Chinen quickly increased the repertory of classical music.

A Kiosk of Information Related to Okinawan Music

Robert Garfias Department of Anthropology UCI

I have been invloved in the study of Okinawan music for some years now. It is a pity that no adequate recordings of this music are avavilable in the US or in Europe. There are not even readily available in Japan. Here are a few of my favorites, ripped from commercial cassettes bought in Okinawa some years ago. Classical Music The disctinction between folk and classical is not as clear as it is in other places, like even Japan. It is the old music of the court, but it also remained close to or connected to what was going on in the folk music. 1. Kajiyadefu Bushi. A song of greeting and good wishes, often the first piece played in an OKinawan music concert. 2. Kuti Bushi. A slow elegant song and dance. Minyo (Okinawan Folk Music)

1. Hatoma Bushi. Originally from the Yaeyama Islands, this song has become a standard in the Okinawan repertoire. Yaeyama Islands The southern most islands of the Ryukyus are the Yaeyama group, some of which are quite close to Taiwan. Yaeyama has its own folk and classical tradition and is some of the loveliest music in the Ryukyus. Here are a few examples. 1. Basu no tori. The song of the eagle, this also accompanies a dance. The second part goes into the lively Sakiida bushi. 2. Mamitoma. Classical Yaeyama with a strong feeling of the folk.

On one of my early visits to Okinawa I bought a number of 45rpms. Only years later did I rediscover them and realize that they were recordings made by Miyazato Haruyuki. When I returned to Okinawa in 1990 Miyazato was still alive and very active in the Afuso Ryu tradition of Okinawan classical music. He was in fact the head of the school. Although the Afuso tradition had fewer members than the Nomura Ryu, which claims thousands of members and many in Hawaii, the US and even in Brazil and Argentina, the Afuso numbers had been slowly growing and this was largely due to the efforts of Miyazato Haruyuki. He was probably a student of Furugen Seiho, one of the few students of the last court musician to the king of the Ryukyus, Kim Ryosho. Before WWII Kim Ryosho had visisted Hawaii and found many people there anxious to learn from him, however, he did not think that any of them were worthy of his tutelage. Kim Ryusho made some recordings shortly before his death in 1928. These were followed by a few recordings made by his student, Furugen Seiho. Here the story gets interesting. Miyazato Haruyuki was drafted into the Japanese army during World War II and was sent to Manchuria. He was there captured by the Russians and following the usual

Russian practive he was kept a prisoner and not repatriated for over ten years. Meanwhile in Hawaii, Nakasone Seisho (Harry Nakasone) had a produce business in Honolulu and was a sanshin player. He invited Kochi Kamechiyo, a noted Nomrua Ryu singer and sanshin player (the two functions are always performed by one person) to Hawaii. Times were very, very hard in Okinawa after the war and so so he gladly came and was happy to teach anyone who wished to learn. As a result there were thousands of Nomura ryu musicians in Hawaii and this in turn spread to California and even to Brazil and Argentina. During this period in Okinawa, Furugen had few students and the Afuso Ryu was dwindling. When at last Miyazato was repatriated to Okinawa he began to teach very actively and by the time of his death in the late 1990's Afuso Ryu had thousands of adherents, never as many as the Nomura Ryu but now safely well established. One of his students, Owan Kiyoyuki, now on the faculty at Ryukyu University, for many years devotedly took a tape recorder along to his lessons with Miyazato sensei and over the years was gradually able to complete a series of recordings of the complete repertoire of Okinawan classical music in the Afuso tradition, 186 performances. I am here including only the Japanese Columbia 45s that I found in Okinawa in 1966.

Miyazato Haruyuki, voice and sanshin Tawada Sumi, kutu

1. Nufwa Bushi 2. Kasa Udui 3. Naga Unna Bushi 4. Sanyama Bushi-Shitadashi-Nakahu 5. Tsikuten Bushi-Haitsikuten bushi 6. Akachichi Bushi and Karaya Bushi 7. Amakaa Bushi and Nakahu Bushi 8. Takadera Manzai 9. Honchoshi Nakahu Bushi and Akatahu Bushi 10. Mutu Kadikuu Bushi 11. Mutu Hanahu Bushi and Honchoshi Shikkwe Bushi 12. Hanahu Bushi and Shitadashi Shikkwe Bushi A few recordings by Furugen Seiho. Note that the complete recordings of Kim Ryojin are available on Japanese CD's so I will not reprodiuce them here. The sound of the music of Furugen Seiho appears closest to the old Ryukuan Courtly singing sty;le, a deep breathy voice produced from the stomach. This was as it was described to me by Kim Ryojin's son, Kim Ryosho, who was a musician and specialized in the performance of Kumi Udui, the classical Okinawa dance theater.

Furugen Seiho, Voice and sanshin 1. Unna Bushi and Nakagusikuhantamae Bushi 2. Nakahu Bushi 3. Shikkwe Bushi 4. Tsikuten Bushi

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Professor of Anthropology Social Sciences, UCI Irvine CA 92698 Room 3336 SBGB Telephone: 949 824-6644 Fax: 949 824-4717 This page has been viewed 1112 times.

Robert Garfias ( last updated 2.28.12