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THOUSANDS GATHER IN NAHA FOR ANNUAL EISA PARADE

Date Posted: 2005-08-17

NAHA CITY, OKINAWA - Drumbeats reverberated off of nearby buildings and rose over the crowd of thousands as approximately 10,000 traditional Japanese folk drummers and dancers performed in the annual Eisa Parade on Kokusai Street Aug. 7.

The Eisa Parade is a prelude to the Oban celebration, or festival of the dead. It is essentially a reverent memorial service for ancestors, according to Vicki Kruger, Quality of Life and Tour Coordinator for Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation.

"Eisa originally had an important religious function of giving rest to the dead," Kruger said. "Today it is regarded more as entertainment."

MWR provided transportation for 58 service members from Kadena Air Base and Camp Shields to Naha for the event.

"If you live off-base, you often have the opportunity to hear and see people practicing Eisa in anticipation of the island-wide festivals," she said. "Those residing in housing or barracks on-base don't often get to experience the dynamic, spirited dance of Eisa."

The crowd waited in the sun on the teeming sidewalks for the parade to begin. Along the street, dancers lined up, making final adjustments to their rich, multicolored costumes. Some posed for pictures. Others chatted with nearby friends. When the music commenced it was time to concentrate on their jobs.

The performers slowly made their way down the street, stopping every few blocks for a short performance.

The performers were in nearly perfect step as the traditional Japanese music began to play through speakers lining the street. The dancers accompanied each song with a synchronized dance that incorporated jumps, thrusts, kicks and dramatic poses. Each performance brought rousing ovation.

Some performers had live bands, and when songs concluded the bands would quickly pack and join the parade.

"The fact that you have 10,000 people, kids, dancing in sync like that is incredible," said 2nd Lt. Johnny R. Chapman, commanding officer for communications platoon with Marine Air Control Squadron "I don't know how much they practice, but they're awesome."

Col. Scott Buran, the deputy chief of training and operations for III Marine Expeditionary Force, brought his family to enjoy the parade.

"It's important to immerse yourself in the culture and to have fun doing it," said Buran, a Philadelphia native.

After the parade, Kruger said everybody she went with enjoyed the event.

"Everyone who went had a really great time," she said. "The audio and visual impact easily keeps everyone enthralled"

The 50th All-Okinawa Eisa Festival is scheduled to take place at the Koza Sports Complex located between Gates 2 and 5 of Kadena Air Base, Aug. 27-28. For more information on the Eisa Festival, call 634-6924.

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