When it comes to the summer traditions of Okinawa, many people think of 'Eisa.'

The melodic sound of the Sanshin (Traditional instrument), the powerful beat of the drum, and the dynamic dance movements are incredibly cool!

What exactly is the charm of Eisa that once seen, is never forgotten?

This article introduces the history and basic purpose of Eisa, as well as highlights and event information that make enjoying it even more exciting!

What is Eisa? (Okinawa Eisa)

'Eisa' is a traditional performing art form found across the entire island of Okinawa and Amami Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture.

During the period of the traditional Bon festival, local youth associations parade through their communities while dancing to welcome back and see off the spirits of ancestors who have returned to the earthly realm.

In essence, 'Eisa' can be likened to the 'Bon dance.'

However, the specifics of Eisa, including the music, choreography, and costumes, vary from region to region.

For example, while Eisa commonly features impressive 'shime-daiko' and 'o-daiko' drums, there are regions where only small, single-sided drums called 'paranku' are used, or where hand movements take precedence over drumming.

In addition to these traditional Eisa dances passed down through generations, there is also a modern trend of 'creative Eisa,' which incorporates contemporary elements.

In Okinawa, Eisa is such a familiar cultural practice that it is often performed even at events like nursery and elementary school sports festivals, making it a deeply ingrained part of the prefecture's cultural heritage that almost everyone has danced at least once.

History of Eisa

Even though there is limited literature on the subject, there are several theories regarding the origins of Eisa.

Among them, a famous theory suggests that Eisa originated from the 'Nenbutsu Odori' dance, which was performed between 1603 and 1606 by the Jodo Buddhist monk Taichu Shonin to make reciting Buddhist prayers easier to understand.

Furthermore, Eisa underwent significant changes in Okinawa Island, particularly in central regions, after World War II.

The catalyst for this change was the inception of the All-Island Eisa Competition (now known as the Okinawa All-Island Eisa Festival) in 1956.

Initially, this competition focused on ranking performances, leading to the development of more elaborate and captivating Eisa dances featuring vibrant choreography, formations, and costumes.

The Basic Structure and Roles of Eisa

Did you know that Eisa involves more than just drums?

Here, we'll explain the basic roles of Eisa.


Firstly, leading the Eisa troupe with a raised flag is the 'Hatagashira' (flag bearer).

The Hatagashira, often considered a symbol of the youth association, carries a flag measuring approximately 3 to 4 meters in height, bearing the name of the local area, and keeps bearing it for a long time.

Despite its considerable weight, the Hatagashira raises and lowers the flag in time with the music's tempo, serving as a prominent symbol of the youth association.


The 'Jikata' is essential in Eisa, playing the Sanshin (three-stringed traditional Okinawan instrument) while singing folk songs or Eisa melodies.

This role is crucial in leading the tempo for the dancers, and former members of the group or experts often fulfill it.


The 'O-daiko' plays a pivotal role in Eisa, leading the rhythm with powerful beats to ensure the overall tempo remains steady.

As the central figure responsible for not missing the sound of the Sanshin, this position is vital but it is one of the challenging roles.

With its large size, the O-daiko's movements are dynamic and forceful, and its deep, heavy sound resonates far and wide.


The smaller drum than O-daiko, 'Shime-daiko' drum allows for agile movements, enabling acrobatic dance performances with larger movements of the hands and feet.

Due to the larger number of participants typically assigned to this role within the Eisa troupe, the synchronized performance of the entire group is particularly impressive!


The foundational 'Teodori' (hand dance), serves as the basis for all roles in Eisa, and it consists of two types: the male dance ('Ikigamoi') and the female dance ('Inagumoi').

The male dance is characterized by masculine movements, often incorporating elements from karate forms.

In contrast, the female dance features soft, graceful movements typical of femininity.

Depending on the youth association, the performance may consist solely of the female dance or may include both female and male dances.

Sanaja (Chondara)】

The striking 'Sanaja', with its eccentric makeup of white-painted faces and comical movements, captures the audience's attention.

Known by various names such as 'Chondara' depending on the region, it is often mistakenly considered a role solely for entertaining the audience with its appearance.

However, it is actually a crucial behind-the-scenes force!

While dancing freely, the Sanajaa also ensures the formation, exchanges broken drumsticks during the performance, and maintains calm control over the surroundings.

Given its complexity, this role is often entrusted to seasoned veterans well-versed in Eisa.

Okinawa Eisa: It Gets Even More Interesting Here!

You will miss the interesting part if you just watch Eisa.

Here are more interesting highlights to pay attention to!

T he Differences Among Various Regions (Youth Associations)

Since the All-Island Eisa Competition of 1956, Eisa has evolved significantly.

Since they compete with each other, Eisa groups from various regions began to differentiate themselves through their choreography, formations, and costumes to make a unique appeal.

Even when using the same music, each region showcases its distinctive characteristics through dynamic performances and unique choreography.

This evolution, driven by the desire to entertain the audience, reflects the innovative efforts of each youth association.

However, some youth associations continue to uphold traditional choreography passed down through generations.

Both approaches offer captivating performances, and as one learns about different youth associations from various regions, the variations depending on the teams become even more enjoyable to appreciate!


Earlier, we explained “the basic structure and roles of Eisa”, each with its own position within the troupe.

Typically, the lineup follows this order: Hatagashira (flag bearer) → Jikata (sanshin player) → O-daiko (big drum) → Shime-daiko (small drum) → Ikigamoi (male dancer) → Inagumoi (female dancer), with the Sanajaa moving freely throughout the formation.

However, there are no strict rules, and subtle variations may occur depending on the association or the circumstances.

Especially with larger groups, a more powerful and impressive formation is created, providing a more captivating experience for the audience.

Oorase (Gaaee)】

During the Bon festival period, Eisa troupes can be seen dancing on various roads throughout the region.

One particular event that takes place at the boundaries between multiple local youth associations is called 'Eisa Oorase (Gaaee)'.

'Oorase (Gaaee)' means 'to fight' or 'to compete', referring to a sort of Eisa 'battle'.

However, this 'battle' doesn't involve actual fighting with hands or words; instead, it's a competition to see which Eisa troupe can dance without disrupting the rhythm or pace.

This intense Eisa Oorase, seen up close, offers a thrilling aspect of Eisa that can't be experienced at festivals or tourist sites.

Okinawa Eisa: Event Information

We've covered various aspects of Eisa, but where can you actually go to see it in person?

Here are some event recommendations that you should definitely check out!

※ Please note that event details and fees are subject to change.
Please verify the information on the official website beforehand.

Okinawa All-Island Eisa Festival】

When it comes to Eisa festivals, this is the one to mention!

The 'Okinawa All-Island Eisa Festival' has had a significant influence on the history of Eisa.

As the name suggests, Eisa groups from all over the Okinawa Islands participate and perform in front of a large audience.

It's a recommended event where you can see various Eisa performances from different youth associations and groups all at once!

Event Dates: September 8th to 10th, Reiwa 5 (2023)
Event Location: Koza Sports Park Athletics Stadium & Surrounding Areas

※ For more details, please check the official website.


During the Obon period, when youth associations parade through their communities while dancing Eisa, it's referred to as 'Michijunee,' and you can see Eisa performances everywhere during this time.

Especially on the final day of Obon, it's bustling until late at night, and if you're lucky, you might catch an Eisa Oorasee!

You can experience a unique atmosphere of Obon that you won't find at regular festivals.

Okinawa World】

At Okinawa World, a tourist facility where you can experience things like limestone caves and traditional crafts, you can also enjoy an Eisa show!

While this Eisa performance is tailored for tourists, it still features dynamic movements that are quite impressive!

It's great that you can see Eisa performances at any time, regardless of the Obon festival or other local events.

Address: 1336 Maekawa, Tamagusuku, Nanjo City, Okinawa 901-0616 Japan
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM (Last admission at 4:00 PM)
Admission: Adults (15 years and older) 2,000 yen
         Children (4 to 14 years old) 1,000 yen

In Conclusion

This time, we introduced Okinawa's traditional performing art, Eisa.

Eisa possesses the power to captivate many people with its dynamic movements and resonating drum beats.

Beyond being an essential traditional performance during the Obon festival, Eisa has evolved significantly by adding entertainment elements to festivals and events.

We look forward to its continued development in the future!