2012 Nishime Eisa

I’ve talked about Eisa before, but one of the great things about this Okinawan take on dance and drumming is that there are so many ways to do it.  Almost everything is up for grabs when it comes to unique community identity in Eisa performances.  This past weekend, I attended the annual Nishime sumo competition and Eisa on Kumejima.  Nishime is one of nearly 35 aza or neighborhoods on the island.

As at the Gima Okinawan Sumo competition, the purpose of the events were trifold: the traditional offering of personal effort during the traditional harvest, a way to raise money for the community, and an entertaining social event that binds the community closer together.

The Event started at 3:00 with Elementary sumo competitions, working up to the adult competitions.  I participated this year, and won my first match 2-0, but lost the second one 0-2 to the champion who won the whole thing.  I have that kind of luck when it comes to pulling numbers for the tournament ladder.

Directly after awards were handed out, local community members put on the Nishime Eisa performance.  Most Eisa performances are set for stages or parades and often have their performers arranged in a block formation.  At this unique celebration, the performers entered in one long line and then circled the sumo ring.  To accompany the drummers there were five sanshin (sanshin are the Okinawan version of the Japanese shamisen, a cross between lute and guitar that is usually covered with snake-skin) players who sang and played Okinawan tunes which are a usual feature of Eisa.

It is unknown when Eisa began on Kumejima, however, it has been a staple of island life since at least the Meiji Era, though it was temporarily halted during World War II.  The Eisa performance today lasts about fifty minutes with 12 songs.

Nishime Songs*

  • Medetai Bushi
  • Chunjun Nagari
  • Kudaka
  • Totangani
  • Suri Agari
  • Watta Shima
  • Yokatu Kaijo Meguri
  • Minato Bushi
  • Hanjo Bushi
  • Akino Odori
  • Goeku Bushi
  • Numuku- SuiSui

More on Nishime Eisa

There is more than just the circular Eisa that makes Nishime unique.  Half of the performers wear the traditional Eisa garb of Chinese influenced dress with headwear formed from a long stretch of fabric.  Unlike many Eisa costumes of bright colors, the Nishime drummers wear mostly black with white trim.  The drummers use mainly small drums  with a pair of large drums leading and following.  The Eisa moves are complex, but overall require a great deal of stamina.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Nishime is the other half.  While one half of the performers are drummers, the other half are paired couples in bright traditional Okinawan clothing.  These performers do not have drums but instead dance to the music and drums along the sumo circle.  These tend to be the older or married couples, while the drummers are the younger, though not all are single.  The men tend to use closed fists in their dance, while the women have more graceful open palms.

Finally, accompanying the Eisa performers are Okinawan clowns in the guise of the elderly.  The arrive with offerings of awamori which they provide to the audience.  The clowns dance, fan the Eisa performers and interact with the audience.  They help encourage everyone to participate and provide more of an offering to the celebration.

*Song and history information provided by the Kumejima Cultural Center and Museum