Obon (or bon) is a traditional festival to honor the spirits of ancestors. In Okinawa families often have picnics at the tombs where the remains of previous generations were laid to rest.
Eisa are traditional Okinawan folk dances usually performed during Obon. There are huge commercial gatherings of dancers such as the All-Okinawa Eisa Festival in Koza, but small local events take place all over the prefecture.
Last weekend I drove down to Heshikiya on the Katsuren peninsular to photograph their local eisa event. The dances begin around dusk, but I like to arrive early to get some portraits and preparation shots before the event begins.
At the Heshikiya Eisa all dancers are 25 years old or younger. As with many parts of Japanese life there is a clear hierarchy of members, and as with many of these hierachies
it is based on age. In this group, the oldest take on the senior chondara roles (black jacket). Next are the chondara with the traditional brown and white costume, and then the younger drummers. Women can also take part, here they were accompanying dancers. (At other events there are also female drummers.)
Once ready they guys passed around some drinks which judging by the reactions of those who downed their cup was probably neat awamori (Okinawan Thai-rice sake / rocket fuel)
The Heshikiya Eisa has an unusually large number of chondara. In some Eisa groups there is a single chondara whose role is a mixture of conductor, cheerleader, and clown.
At the Heshikiya Eisa the chondara were the stars of the show performing their own dances.
As the sun set, the locals gathered around one of the shrines and all the drummers began to dance. Once finished they would move on and perform again in another part of the village.
As I walked away from the shrine, another group of dancers were preparing to perform with their own colorful chondara to lead them.