Sunday, September 12, 2010

Eisa Festival

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

Trickster - Complete with Bette Davis Eyes!
My friend Murphy and I went to the the finale of Okinawa's big Eisa Festival tonight.  The weather was muggy, but the experience was well worth the sweat.

This annual event is held on a soccer field just outside of Kadena's Gate 2.  It used to be an all-island competition between each community's Esai group, but now is more or less just a showcase for their talents.  We watched three groups perform tonight, each lasting about half an hour.  This was the third and final night of the event.  It concluded with a fireworks show, the likes of which probably hasn't been seen over Okinawa since the Americans came ashore in 1945!

The Eisa drummers and dancers are all young people - high school or college-aged.  Each group has its own distinctive colors and costumes.  There are also guys running through the performers wearing striped outfits and pointed straw hats.  Murphy referred to these guys as "tricksters," much like the Navajo kokopellis.  At one point they were pulling little children from the audience and letting them dance with the performers.

The nearest American equivalent that I can come up with for the Eisa groups would be high school and college drill teams.   They bang their drums in unison and are highly choreographed.
Finger-Lickin' Goodness Just 300 Yen!

There were many people there in traditional dress, including the performers.  Many young ladies - and some of their mothers and grandmothers - were wearing beautiful kimonos, and some of the young men were wearing traditional garb as well.

There was a country fair type of event surrounding the soccer field where vendors sold food and drinks.   The foods were mostly oriental fare, but Colonel Sanders has a spot staked out also.  Murphy pointed out one delicacy to me that he said was "octopus balls!"  Yummy!

There were also game booths and the like.  We watched a large group of people scooping little goldfish out of a water-filled boat.  The little nets that they purchased to scoop the goldfish were made of rice paper and would quickly begin to dissolve when they got wet - so it was a skilled activity that was also a race against time.

We're Number One, Hey!  We're Number one!
The other thing that I really enjoyed, besides the drum shows, the country fair, and the fireworks, was the crowd surging on the field as the event ended.  It was mayhem, and it was fun!  The crowd was mostly Okinawan, but quite a few Americans turned out for the event as well.

This evening was well spent.  Enjoy the photos!  More will follow in the coming days because I took plenty!

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