The Okinawan traditional eisā dance has gained nationwide popularity over the past few years and is no longer a transient boom. I was visiting Tokyo from Okinawa when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom in Ueno Park. People were having parties on picnic blankets in the park and many were enjoying outdoor karaoke. Looking around, I saw men and women with reddish faces holding microphones in their hands, expressing themselves with exaggerated gestures. It was chaotic, yet there seemed to be some sort of order as well. A group then came and stirred up the scene.
The first sound came from somewhere far away, but I immediately knew what it was. Eisā. The dance was performed by college students living in Tokyo. Seeing it up close, I realized that there were not only Okinawans performing, but many non-Okinawan students as well.
The first eisā boom was led by the Okinawan students’ associations in various parts of the country. Eisā is now experiencing its second boom, and this time, it is led by pārankū drums.
Pārankū is a type of drum that is light, single-headed and around 20 centimeters in diameter. Being so light, it is ideal for performances that involve smooth and energetic movements, as the performers can move quite freely.
Pārankū was originally brought from China. “Kū” is represented by 鼓, the kanji for drum, but there is no kanji for “pāran.” In other words, the drum must have taken root in Okinawa quite some time ago.
Some people consider the Heshikiya, Yakena, and Henna regions of the Yokatsu Peninsula as the home of eisā culture. Many enthusiasts visit Heshikina each year on group tours. What eisās in the regions have in common is the use of pārankū. An eisā performance is generally considered to be stirring and splendid. Many people enjoy the performer’s movements, which seem to unleash their inner passion. Yet in Heshikina and Henna, the eisā performances are far from being stirring and splendid. Instead, the performance seems more introversive, with the performers playing the pārankūs as if to keep their emotions inside.
The pārankūs are sold in massive numbers now. The flood of orders arrives not only from the local regions but also from all parts of Japan. It first gained nationwide recognition as the new wave eisā group Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko became popular. The contemporary Okinawan music by Hidekatsu and Rinken Band also contributed to the popularity of the instrument. Even before that, eisā was performed by children at elementary schools, preschools, and even at daycare centers in Okinawa. As the performers became younger and younger, it began to reach other parts of Japan. It is the ideal instrument for nurturing a sense of rhythm.
The current trend means that domestic production is no longer sufficient. In recent years, pārankūs are made in China and Vietnam to fulfill the demand.