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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Eisā (July Eisā) is an event celebrating Kyūbon, especially popular in the central and northern areas of the mainland. We greet the spirits of our ancestors on July 13th and send them off on the night of the 15th according to the lunar calendar. Midnight after this event called the Usōrōūkui, men and women of the young men’s association parade the streets, paying visits to houses of the district to farewell the spirits. On the big drum’s deep beat, smaller drums called pārankū and shimedaiko coalesce light-heartedly. The Jīutē (singing and sanshin) sings embracing the rhythm of the drums along with joyful cheers and whistles as the dancers join with their hands in unison; the Eisā band marches on.

One of the most known Eisaa songs is Chunjun Nagari:

Chunjun-nagari ya shichinagari
 Kugani nu hayashin nanahayashi

which can be listened to from the album IKAWU by NēNēs. Rinken Band’s Shichigatsu Eisā Machikanti is also one among those created based on the rhythm of Eisā.

Goodbyes to kins always feel bitter, hence some say that is why we send off our ancestors making merry in Eisā with drums, songs, and sanshin. These days, people enjoy it not only on the 15th but on all three days from the 13th. That means, we start sending off our ancestors in dins as soon as we welcome them; it worries me a little that it may seem impolite. 
 After Kyūbon, we hold the “Okinawa Zento Eisaa Festival” which many tourists come to see. Aside from this show, Eisā is played by kids on sports day in elementary schools all around Japan or appears often at Okinawa-related events. Creative Eisā with liberal music and choreographies are also popular. Like so, it has been alienated from Bon1, although it’s still understood that “the height of Eisā is the last night of Bon”.

By the way, in most cases, men play the drums and women dance in Eisā. Nevertheless, I hear that lately, some energetic girls play the big drums. Time has come for traditional festivals to be gender-free.

Editor’s Note:

  1. An annual Japanese holiday to commemorate the deceased ancestors.