Bits of Knowledge
Origin of Eisa
The Origin of Eisa has been and still is studied and due to the lack of documents, there are several different stories. From 1603 to 1606, a Jodo-shu priest, Taichu Jojin, who enjoyed King Sho Nei's favor, introduced "Nenbutsu Odori," dances from a Jodo Buddhist sect that were added to the chants and songs to make them easier to remember. This marked the origin of the eisa we see today. Eisa's history remains as a record of Naha in "The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty" (1479), more than 500 years ago. So eisa might have started in those days. Also the word "eisa" is said to have come from "esaomoro" in "Omorososhi," 40 volumes of the oldest anthology of Okinawa. Some say the word "eisa" came form a musical accompaniment "eisa, eisa, hiyagaeisa" during the performance. At present, the origin of eisa actually has no solid evidence and is still not clear.
How Eisa is Performed in One Summer
Every year, when the old bon festival comes near, we hear the sound of beating drums from every public hall. Members of each youth association gather there after school or work and practice eisa every night as a routine. Toward the success for the old bon michijune parade, the original role of eisa, they have a lot of practice. Also the following weekend after old bon holidays, Okinawa's biggest summer festival "Okinawa Zento Eisa Matsuri" is held in Okinawa city to show eisa performances from each area. The eisa season is from June to September, when you can join an array of events to enjoy eisa.
The Main Feature of Eisa
Everyone will definitely be touched by eisa when they see it for the first time. The delight and an uplifting feeling is expressed as "Chim dun dun" in the Okinawan language. Why does eisa touch strings of spectators' hearts so much? It might be the sound of large barrel drums and dynamic dances, but a true reason is how each youth association members dance their community's distinct eisa with pride and a lot of soul. Their eisa performances are heavily tinged with their regional uniqueness. Jikata, sanshin, odaiko, shimedaiko, and teodori, all of which has a different dance style but their tight performance is overwhelming. Please change the direction of your eyes to watch a disciplined form movement. Nifty drumstick work, how high their legs go, and so on.... Find your favorite way to watch the eisa performance, and it will be another way to enjoy it.
Okinawa City Eisa Basic Formation
Odaiko Large Barrel Drums
Odaiko dancers are the voice chairman of eisa, who should catch the sound of sanshin carefully. Their position is important because they have to always lead the group to keep all of the sound together. They cannot miss even one beat. They are required to be of large build and have stamina to hold heavy Odaiko. Although holding Odaiko restricts their movement, they show dynamic performances. The heavy sound of Odaiko projects the grandeur of eisa.
Shimedaiko Medium-sized Drums
Shimedaiko could be considered the gorgeous part of the eisa performance. All the dancers' tight movement and spectacular union of their bold and sensitive performance magnetize spectators.
Ikigamoi (Boy Teodori Hand Dance)
Hand dance is the foundation of Eisa dance. Boys start with teodori and are not allowed to hold drums until they master the rhythm and movement. Steps can tell how much boys' dancing skills have improved. Some youth associations have adopted Karate forms.
Inagumoi (Girl Teodori Hand Dance
Girl Teodori dancers wear mainly ikat, sash, and shimazori sandals. Some groups wrap mameshibori or saji hand towels around the head. In contrast to powerful boy teodori, girl teodori add flowers to Eisa dance by gentle finger movements in their lithe dance.
Hatagashira Flag Bearers
Hatagashira are at the head of the group formation as a face of a youth association. They hold a very heavy flag and swing the flag up and down in rhythm to the music. When they bump into another youth association during michijune parade, gaeh (eisa ohrase) might happen. Hatagashira swing their flags up and down in up tempo rhythm as they were competing with the other. Each youth association has a different flag design, which is also a must-see point.
(It is also called "Chondara," though its original meaning is different as in sanaja. As they play a clown-like role to pump up the spectators, sanaja keep the formation of the performers in order. Mostly experienced eisa dancers play this role. In the michijune parade on old bon holidays, sanaja brings harmony with the surrounding as a guide. Bizarre, whimsical makeup and comical dance makes it worthwhile to watch.
Aza generally refers to blocks in towns and villages, but in Okinawa, aza is the equivalent of a community (or hamlet) or ward. Still today traditional events are performed in each community, aza has been an important unit in our lives. Above all, eisa has been very popular as an integral element of old bon events in each aza, this is one characteristic of Okinawa and is why eisa plays such an important role in community traditional events.
Jikata, Jutei are musicians and singers. They are key and essential to eisa performances. Each eisa group should have several jikata. As they sing folk music and eisa songs while playing the sanshin, they play an important role of leading the tempo of dancers. There are many people in youth associations that want to be jikata rather than Odaiko dancers.
Michijune mentioned here is dancing eisa along the street of each aza community. Just like bon odori on mainland Japan, it is a traditional event that, on a bon (old bon in Okinawa) night, young people in the village dance around one household to another. At present, during michijune parade, each household gives donations, which is used as an important funding source for activities in youth associations.