Okinawa All-island Eisa and Orion Beer Festival

One of the most popular natsu matsuri (summer festival) 夏祭り is the All-island Okinawa Eisa and Orion beer festival held the weekend following obon— at least with Americans that is. Held at the Koza Sports Park, I have seen more Americans at this festival than any other. It is actually 2 festivals, coinciding with each other: the eisa festival itself and the Orion Beer Festival.

*In 2018, this will August 31-September 2.

To reach the festival, there are free shuttle buses, as there is no parking at the venue. You can park at Aeon Rycom Mall, as well as some other areas to catch the free shuttle buses. Otherwise, there are some paid parking areas near Koza.

On Friday evening, in the Koza area, there is the Eisa parade. The parade is actually pretty nice; bring a leisure sheet to sit on and some dinner to relax and watch. Next to us, there was a family with a kid (who could not have been more than 3 or so) and he played his pint size drum, dancing around in his eisa outfit as the groups played on the street. He was quite entertaining.

On Saturday and Sunday, is the actual eisa festival and beer festival; the festivals, though both are at the Koza Sports Park, is divided into 2 sections. On one side is the Orion Beer festival, with outdoor tables and chairs, music stage entertainment, Orion Beer girls, tents selling nothing but Orion draft beer, and of course, loud drunk Americans (well, and locals too, if we are being honest). When you enter, they give you a wristband if you are of drinking age and you MUST have it to buy alcohol. I usually don’t spend more than about 5 minutes there, as it really isn’t my scene. But I think the beer is usually cheaper on this side than the eisa festival side, so…

The other side where the eisa festival is, however, more family friendly. There are pay seats in the bleachers, but for free you can just bring a sheet and sit in the field to watch. It is all eisa performances, so it can get a bit repetitive, but can be a fun evening out, especially if you have never been to a natsu matsuri before. You will likely see many girls (both local and foreign) wearing summer yukata or jinbei.

Of course, lining the entire area is typical summer festival food tents. A lot of these are what I refer to as generic “yellow tent” food (due to a majority of them using a basic yellow tent), a company that comes in and sells mediocre food in large volume.. often times it is not really hot when you get it. I try to find the more local vendors, who are usually hawking piping-hot fresh food. Over here, you can still buy beer and are away from the drunk scene.

At the end of the night, there are fireworks to finish off the evening. While it is not my favorite festival on island it can still be fun, especially for new-comers, and you can experience a lot of eisa all in one place. Plus, I have to admit, all the lanterns strung up with happy festival goers in yukata, drums and fireworks gives a nice ambience on a hot summer evening.

address: Koza Sports Park,

official festival website:

Where to see eisa during Obon…

If you are in Okinawa during Obon, then likely you will hear eisa drums in the distance. I previously wrote a tiny bit introducing about Okinawa’s bon dance, eisa エイサー, in another post. You can hear eisa pretty much year-round, and especially at summer matsuri (~July-October), but it is most important during Obon. Neighborhood Obon eisa can occur anytime in the 4 day interval from the first evening (unkeh ウンケー) usually until the day after last day (uukui ウークイ). The act of eisa parading around the neighborhood is called 道じゅねー “Michi Junee.”

So I know many people just keep their windows open and listen for the sounds of eisa, following it when they hear it. But, honestly there is a better way to find out when and where they will be performing near you… there are likely signs in your neighborhood, though if you don’t read Japanese, you might not realize that is what they are for. I have passed dozens upon dozens of simple painted wooden signs indicating when eisa will be performed for various neighborhoods, so just keep your eyes out; occasionally you will get some modernizing areas post it on the official village/town/city website or even on a Facebook page. So what do these signs looks like?


key words that you might see on signs:

旧盆 kyuubon 
お盆 obon
エイサー eisa
盆踊り bon odori/bon dance

ウンケー unkeh, the first day of obon
中日 nakanuhi, the 2nd day of obon
ウークイ uukui, the 3rd day of obon

月 month
日 day
時 hour

場所 place/location
区 ward/neighborhood
公民館 public hall
広場 open space/wide space

Summer Eisa on Miyagi-jima

宮城島 Miyagi-jima is a small island connected by bridge to the Okinawa main island via Henza-jima.

This year is the second annual summer eisa matsuri, called たかはなり島あしび Takahanari Shima Ashibi.

高離り島 (たかはなり島) refers to Miyagi-jima. あしび means “to play” in Okinawa language (coming from the Japanese, 遊ぶ asobu). So basically, the name of the festival is like “come play on Miyagi island!”

At 3 pm, eisa groups start to perform along the roads in 3 areas of the island. There is a main parking area at the old (abandoned) elementary school for the festival. FYI, this is NOT actually in google maps… so actually pay attention to the address given… unlike myself, who figured, I will just follow the signs, how hard can it be, it is a tiny island, right?? Well, luckily when you get close, the signs had a pouch with printed out maps, directions, locations, schedules and the whole bit, otherwise I would have stayed lost (despite this being a tiny island). Luckily, we were not the only lost souls, other Japanese/Okinawans were also getting these maps and looking confused. Anyway, it was easy once we figured the approximate location in the car navi system.

Anyway… so back to the street performances. These were simply along residential, narrow streets of the island, from 3-5pm. People emerged from houses and cars to watch and listen to the eisa performers. During this time, my husband (over 6 feet tall, a giant by Japanese standards) and myself (although of average US height, still towers over most Japanese women) decidedly stood out as the only foreigners in the small crowd. It was a bit hot, but at least there was some small breeze off the ocean making it a bit more tolerable. We arrived a bit late (nearly 4pm, due to the maps issue), which was probably a good thing considering the Okinawan heat. In spite of seeing many eisa performances since arriving nearly 3 years ago, I am still fairly fascinated by it and all of the variations you see around the island.

Around 5pm, the main stage area of the festival grounds was getting started, and tents with food, drinks, and local products encircled the field. This festival was unlike many of the other more “popular” summer matsuri, as here it was almost entirely LOCAL business and products! Wow, so nice– too often with the larger matsuri, big companies come in and sell food/drink (with bigger crowds, the mom&pop places have a hard time competing), and they are rather subpar. Today, it was different and amazing.

The famous ougon-imo (黄金芋, orange sweet potato similar to annou-imo and “American” orange sweet potatoes) from the neighboring island made an appearance, as well as many other small businesses. Ika (squid) caught from the surrounding waters and mozuku (seaweed special to Okinawa) was also prominent among food sellers. We had squid karaage (fried squid rings), beniimo dango (fried purple sweet potato mochi), baked ougon-imo, sata andagi (Okinawa doughnut) flavored with dragonfruit, ohagi (sweet sticky rice balls, these were flavored with ougon-imo), and chicken wrapped in fried shredded ougon-imo (um… picture like a chicken nugget but if instead of breading you replaced that with sweet potato hashbrowns). Everything we tried was delicious, my husband gave it his highest rating. He was initially a bit reluctant to be dragged to this small festival, as it was about a 45-minute car ride north of our house. I guess I drag him to a lot of summer matsuri…

As we were eating, the main stage shows played. There was eisa, local dancing, sanshin, chondora (eisa clowns), fan dance, and more. It was really quite nice, especially once the sun sunk down beneath the horizon and it cooled down a bit.

I guess it was a bit obvious the lack of foreign guests (besides us, 2 american guys with their Okinawan wives). We were approached by a writer for one of the travel websites, as she had noticed us watching the street eisa earlier. She spoke to me in Japanese, mixed with a little English, and I explained my situation in Okinawa, and how I had found out about this matsuri (online, from an event website in Japanese). She lamented the lack of English resources for finding these types of events, and I agreed, as I find these local events extremely interesting and a great chance to learn more about tradition and culture of the islands. She took our picture and gave me a card; she was a sweet person. Later she emailed a link to the article she wrote and our picture with caption was published on the travel website.

Evenings like this type of summer festival are special, and gives a chance to glimpse how life really is in Okinawa. At these events you can see the real Okinawa, not the tourist view.


Okinawa’s bon dance, Eisa: エイサー

「イーヤーサーサー」 “i-ya-sa-sa-”
「ハーイーヤー」 “ha-i-ya-”

This is the sound of eisa. Anyone who has lived in Okinawa will recognize it immediately.

As summer approaches, so does matsuri season. Eisa is a synonymous with the summer matsuri season here in Okinawa. Eisa エイサー is a type of “bon dance,” 盆踊り (bon odori). Bon, or Obon, (written in kanji as 御盆 or お盆) is an important time of year for Japanese people; it is a time to honor and commemorate their ancestors. They believe that each year during Obon, the ancestor spirits return to our world to visit relatives. Bon occurs the 13th through the 15th day of the 7th month of the year; for many places this is July (according to the solar calendar), however in Okinawa, it is celebrated according to the lunar calendar, so it occurs sometime in August or September. I will leave the details of customs and traditions related to Okinawan Obon holiday for another blog post, and for now focus on eisa. During Obon in Okinawa, many eisa troupes will perform all around the island to bid farewell as their ancestors leave to Earth to return again to the heavens. There is a local group that travels down our neighborhood and town, stopping at various points to perform; we are sure to watch them as they dance, chant, whistle, and play drums in front of the convenience store across the street.

Due to the large Japanese population in Hawai’i, Obon is also commonly celebrated all over Hawai’i throughout the summer months– so this holiday  and bon dance in general is not really new to me, but I have learned about some of the more Okinawan traditions and especially eisa dance.

Although eisa originates as a bon dance, it is performed throughout the year and is considered an important aspect of Okinawan/Ryukuan culture. There are several eisa clubs around the island, and they are especially busy during the summer matsuri season. Already at my university they are practicing for summer during lunch and early afternoon, so I have some entertainment these days while I eat.

There are guys (and sometimes girls) playing larger (taiko) drums, as well as those with smaller hand drums. Usually the females are dressed in simple yukata with Ryukyuan designs. At least one of the guys will be dresses as “Chondara” (Okinawan clowns).
The role of the chondara is to cheer the dancers on and entertaining the audience, as well as guiding the group in the right direction. Sometimes also to scare the small children a bit.

The sounds of eisa wafting through the evening air, while sitting outside and drinking a beer sometimes feels a bit nostalgic as strange as that seems. It has that feeling, that summer has indeed arrived, and will soon be gone so be sure to enjoy the (hot and humid) weather now and the carefree feeling of lazy summer days, because soon it will be replaced by chilly fall and winter winds.

Preview some terribly taken videos of eisa: