Eisa is Okinawa’s showcase tradition
Eisa is a type of dance that evolved from Buddhist bon odori traditions into a type of entertainment that is now ubiquitous in all festive occasions and entertainment at resort hotels. Eisa was born in central Okinawa from where is gradually spread elsewhere on Okinawa main island and beyond.
No wonder then that Okinawa City has declared itself as the hometown of eisa having been the host of the largest eisa event, the All Okinawa Eisa Festival, since 1956.
To highlight the significance of eisa, the city opened a new Eisa Museum on Mar. 25th in the premises of the Music Town that highlights the history of Eisa and related culture.
The museum consists of exhibition areas on two floors. Admission to the first floor is free and open everyone. It includes a specialty shop selling Eisa and Eisa-related Okinawa-made products, such as uniforms, instruments, T-shirts, and more. According to the shop and museum operators, more goods will be added to the selection in the near future.
In addition to the shop, the first floor has a resting space and a Print Club photo machine.
The first floor also houses rooms for hands-on experience activities, such as tin can Sanshin, and Okinawan shima sandal making. Eisa dance lessons are also on the menu. The activities are not free, but the fees are very reasonable. Most activities do not require an appointment to participate, as walk-ins are welcome. Tickets can be purchased from a vending machine at the museum.
An appointment is necessary only for Eisa dance lessons and needs to be done a week in advance. Staff from a local Youth Association (Seinenkai) teach participants how to dance Eisa in sessions lasting about an hour. The appointments for the lessons can be done on the museum website that is currently only in Japanse but an English language part is in the works.
A fee is charged for the admission to the second floor that contains the actual Eisa Museum featuring Eisa history and other information.
Visitors are presented the history of the All Okinawa Eisa Festival on large panels from the very first festival in 1956 all the way to 2017. There’s also video digest about the festival from 1964 to 2017.
Rare and valuable Eisa instruments are included in the exhibition. A bell-like instrument called Kenkena was used in Eisa performances, and they were made from WW2-era artillery shell cartridges. They are rarely seen nowadays but the Kenkena were used until 2012 by Eisa-performers of the Ikehara Youth Association (Seinenkai).
A touch panel shows locations of Okinawa Associations (Kenjinkai) world-wide, although the museum staff admits that their list of overseas associations is not yet complete, and the screen’s data will be updated in the future.
The museum also has a pair of virtual reality goggles that allow the viewer experience dancing Eisa among a group of dancers at the All Okinawa Eisa Festival.
Dancers from three randomly chosen youth associations showcase different styles of Eisa on a screen each performing for three minutes, after which visitors can try their own Eisa imitating what they just saw on the screen. There’s also a wall-size mirror to help and Taiko drums are also available for use. A camera captures the performance and it can then be viewed on the screen side by side the model performance.
Those who want to take photos wearing an Eisa costume can do so at a photo studio. The staff will help visitors to dress in the Eisa costume correctly and take the photos.
There’s also a 10-minute movie shown with projection mapping every few minutes.
The Eisa Museum is a good place to visit for anyone who wants to learn about Eisa and its history and culture as a part of Okinawan traditions.
The general admission to the Eisa Museum second floor is \300 for adults, persons from 7 to 18 years of age pay \100, and children under 6 are free.