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:

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.


Summer festivals: 夏祭り

Natsu-matsuri. Matsuri 祭り (or just 祭) means festival, and natsu 夏 means “summer.”

In Japan, summer seems to start around July 15th, and so does the matsuri season. In Okinawa, there are usually multiple matsuri every weekend through September and even into October. Almost every Saturday and Sunday night the sky will be illuminated by fireworks (hanabi 花火) and the sounds of Okinawan eisa dance (エイサー) echo in the night air. In Okinawa, you will see the strings of Orion lanterns illuminating the paths and and smells will waft from the tents hawking foods.

Every town and village will host their own matsuri; men and women, from children to older folks will wear yukata 浴衣 and jinbei 甚平. Even I own a very classy black jinbei with Hello Kitty x OnePiece on it. Err, well, it is sort of tomboyish, but I find it cute and comfortable… I am pretty sure I would feel weird in a girly yukata. As a note, many westerners do not seem to realize the difference between kimono 着物 and yukata 浴衣. Kimono is very formal and layered, it would be odd to see kimono outside of formal events like weddings, graduations, or New Years Day. Yukata are light and thin, perfect for summer! They are more casual and are easier to put on. And wayyyy cheaper! Formal kimono are usually thousands of dollars (and therefore many people simply rent them instead of buying).

There are performances, games, food, and of course drinks of the alcoholic variety! Oh and they always hand out fans (うちわ uchiwa) as a means of advertising.

If you are in Okinawa or Japan during the summer season, you must attend one.