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10,000 Eisa dancers on Nahas Kokusai Street this weekend

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2005-08-05

The unique sounds of Okinawan drums mix with traditional street dance this weekend as Naha City hosts its annual festival featuring upward of 10,000 performers ranging from near toddlers to senior citizens. The Eisa Festival kicks off tonite at Palette Kumoji Square in Naha City, with Eisa Ashibinaa performance. Showtime is 6:30pm, and admission is free. Itís the start to a long weekend that caps Sunday with the principal parade down more than a mile of the cityís international street, Kokusai Dori. Whatís more, the festivities arenít confined to the capital city, as the eastern suburb community of Yonabaru hosts its own fun and games, including a tug-of-war. Tough choices on where to take the digital camera for the most excitement, as both the Yonabaru Tsunahiki, the tug-of-war, and the dance festival on Kokusai are colorful and attract tens of thousands. In Naha, the Eisa action is hot and heavy on Saturday afternoon, beginning at 2pm at Palette Kumoji Square, when more than a dozen groups perform. For those new to Okinawa, itís a chance to see firsthand how families begin teaching their children cultural heritage at a very early age. An entire series of youth performances also run both Saturday and Sunday from 4-9pm in Okinawa Cityís Childrenís Land. Itís a part of the Naha festival, which is too large to confine to a single location. The big event, though, is the Sunday afternoon parade, which kicks off at 3pm on Kokusai Dori. The 10,000 dancers, forming nearly 200 marching drum groups, take more than a half hour to cover the distance, stopping every few hundred meters to perform mini-shows. Towns and villages participating include Tomishiro, Ishigaki, Urasoe City, Itoman City, Kin Town, Katsuren Town, Ogimi Vilalge, Gushikami Village, Kadena Town, Ginowan City and Gushikawa. Some will be marching under the banner of their newly merged communities. Yonabaruís programs start Saturday afternoon at 3pm, when the city offers cultural programs and shows, as well as amateur bands including Chan Chara, Beer Garden and EDís. The musical highlight is an 8:30pm concert featuring Blue Minds, a professional group. Sundayís tug-of-war should be a dynamic event, drawing more than 10,000 participants as they battle for bragging rights on who can move the giant rope. It begins at 4pm, as everyone gathers and takes places. The official rope pull starts at 5pm. Earlier in the day, make time for the Eisa programs, childrenís
performances and a chance to see snippets of traditional Okinawa culture. 

Getting There

To Naha, travel south on Highway 58. The first opportunity in Naha to turn left to Kokusai comes shortly after passing Tomari Port//Tomarine Hotel. At the next intersection, turn left at the Roynet Hotel traffic signal. Kokusai is about one-half kilometer away. Three other left turns can be made at Matsuyama Crossing, Kumoji Intersection and Izumizaki. All are marked. Be assured traffic will be heavy, and we recommend parking farther from Kokusai Street itself and walking to the festival areas. 
To Yonabaru, which is east of Naha City, travel south on highway 329 until you reach Yonabaru Town. Once there there, signs direct festival goers to the parking areas.

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