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Beer festival shares stage with Eisa

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2009-09-10

Burgers and fries. Fish and chips. Eisa and beer.

Some things absolutely go together.

That’s the way it is in Okinawa City this weekend as the 54th Annual All Okinawa Eisa Festival takes over the Koza Sports Park, and then shares it with Okinawa’s hometown beer: Orion. There’s a pre-festival Friday evening, with dancers parading along Gate 2 Street from 7~9:30pm, but the real action kicks off Saturday afternoon.

It’s official event name is the All-Okinawa Eisa Festival, but most everyone in Okinawa knows it as the Orion Beer Festival. At least 35 eisa groups will take to the stage across two days, filling the air with the melodious sounds of Okinawa. The first dancers appear Saturday afternoon, immediately after opening ceremonies. The groups will each perform 20 minutes. There’s even an Okinawa International Friendship Association group performing. That’s the group featuring foreigners, including Americans.

Orion Beer Festival 2009 adds dimension to the weekend at Koza Sports Park. The local Okinawan beverage will be offered at discount rates to festival revelers. Orion Beer brewery stages several of the mammoth festivals each summer across Okinawa, including the popular southern Miyako and Ishigaki Islands.

The beer festival grounds open Saturday afternoon at four o’clock.

More than 200,000 visitors have trekked to the joint festival in past years, and organizers expect nothing different this year, as the Eisa Festival celebrates its 54th year. Look for brilliant colored costumes and uniforms unique to each municipality performing. Some eisa groups are using the same costumes today they’ve used for more than 300 years.

The All Okinawa Eisa Festival was first held in 1956, on what was then known as the Okinawa City Athletic Field. With the Obon holiday behind them, Okinawans are ready to dance even more. Eisa dance is a traditional Okinawan dance using taiko drums, pounding out the beat. Eisa is a mainstay of Obon, a Buddhist holiday that focuses on honoring Okinawan ancestors’ spirits.

The music follows drums and sanshin, an Okinawa three-string instrument, while dancers sway gracefully. Some dances work in various karate moves as Okinawa’s Uchinanchu heritage is spotlighted.

The Cost

Entrance is free, as it is with most festivals across the islands. The costs are primarily parking fees, food and beverages, and souvenirs. And for those who forget at home, purchasing the ever popular disposable cameras are available, for a price.

Getting There

The 54th Okinawa Island-wide Eisa Festival and Orion Beer Festival takes place at Koza Sports Park in Okinawa City. The location is just southeast of Kadena Air Base, between Gates 2 and 6. An annual recommendation for those with base privileges: park on base and walk to the festival grounds as there are no legal parking areas near the sports park. You’ll find walking is faster than driving through the dense crowds. For those who must drive, travel south from the northern camps and bases, getting off at Exit 4, Okinawa Minami. From the tollbooth turn right at the intersection and follow the crowd. Traveling north on the Okinawa Expressway, again, Exit 4. The drive is about 40 minutes from Naha International Airport.

By bus, a dozen bus lines (21, 23, 27, 31, 62, 63, 75, 77, 112, 113, 123, 263 and 290) approach the site, stopping at Sonda Bus Stop. From there, it’s ten minutes on foot. The busses are recommended, as they’ll bring you to the crowded area with minimum fuss.

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