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10,000 Eisa dancers perform in Naha this weekend

Date Posted: 2008-07-31

By Bill Charles

The island’s largest Eisa festival heads to a crescendo this weekend, when some 10,000 dancers of all ages will fill Kokusai Street to perform in front of tens of thousands of spectators.

The week-long summer festival Naha kicks into high gear tomorrow afternoon, picks up even more speed on Saturday, and moves to the climax with a four-hour parade Sunday with those thousands of dancers converging from across Okinawa. Palette Kumoji, on the edge of Kokusai Street in downtown Naha City, is the setting for Friday’s Pre-Festival, which runs 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Throughout the festive weekend, expect to see performing groups ranging from youngsters to the Over-30 category.

Palette Kumoji is again the venue Saturday 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. for another series of Eisa dances featuring community Eisa group performances. The throbbing drums shift locations to the plaza in front of nearby Tembus Hall for another Eisa dance performance from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. The tempo continues to build in the evening as Ryukyu Matsuri taiko group Hidekatsu performs a live 90-minute concert beginning at 7 p.m.

Sunday’s the big day, though, with the 10,000 dancers winding their way down a several kilometers stretch of Kokusai Street. The parade begins at 3 p.m., but the streets will begin filling with spectators starting shortly after noon. Naha’s mayor will address the gathered crowd of dancers and spectators, and then the music begins.

Participating towns and villages include Tomigusuku, Ishigaki, Urasoe City, Itoman City, Kin Town, Katsuren Town, Ogimi Village, Gushikami Village, Kadena Town, Ginowan City, and Naha City. Foreigners, military personnel and their families, tourists and locals will mix and mingle freely throughout the afternoon, the spirits flow, and cameras get a real workout.

While amateurs, the Eisa groups certainly present a professional appearance and sound, the colorful uniforms and intense dance movements striking a chord echoing Okinawa’s historical past and present. Groups descend on Naha City from throughout the Prefecture, brining youth groups, children’s groups, foreigner groups and adult Eisa teams to join the parade from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Authorities will have traffic blocked off into the downtown Kokusai area by 2:45 p.m., and streets will remain blocked until 7:15 p.m., although congestion typically lasts an hour beyond that. Although not expected this year, organizers have set August 10th as a typhoon make-up date should weather mar the festival.

Getting There

Travel south on Highway 58 to Naha. The first opportunity to turn left toward Kokusai will come shortly after passing the Tomari Port / Tomarin Hotel. At the next intersection, turn left at the Richmond Hotel traffic signal. Kokusai is about one-half kilometer away. Three other left turns can be made at Matsuyama Crossing, Kumoji Intersection and Izumizaki Intersection. All are marked. Traffic will be heavy, and parking farther away from the Kokusai Street area itself is recommended. Be sure to have Japanese yen with you; parking lots and most vendors do not accept U.S. dollars.

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