Drumming out a Message: Eisa and Okinawan Diaspora in Japan

By Gillan, Matt | Yearbook for Traditional Music, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Drumming out a Message: Eisa and Okinawan Diaspora in Japan


Gillan, Matt, Yearbook for Traditional Music


Drumming Out a Message: Eisa and Okinawan Diaspora in Japan. 2005. Directed by Yoshitaka Terada. Produced by National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka. In Japanese with English subtitles. 75 minutes, colour, DVD. Not distributed commercially, but can be rented free from the National Museum of Ethnology (Information System Department), 10-1 Senri Expo Park, Suita, Osaka 565-8511, Japan. Tel. +081-6-6876-2151.

Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, became a part of the Japanese nation in 1879 when its old status as the kingdom of Ryukyu was abolished. As the most recently created prefecture, its residents, and the Okinawan diasporic communities in the large cities of mainland Japan and around the globe, have a strong sense of local identity and culture distinct from that of mainland Japan. A large Okinawan population has been present in Osaka, particularly the Taisho ward in the west of the city, since the early twentieth century, and the city has long been a centre for Okinawan music, producing its first commercial recordings in the 1920s. This documentary film examines the ways in which one group of Okinawan migrant workers and second-generation Okinawans in Osaka have dealt with issues of displacement and identity construction through eisa, a music and dance form usually performed in Okinawa during the summer bon festival.

The performance of eisa in Osaka is relatively recent, and the film chronicles the establishment of the first group in the city in 1975 and its subsequent development to the present. What was fundamentally a ritual genre in Okinawa took on a quite different meaning in Osaka, acting as an outlet for expressions of Okinawan solidarity in the face of oppression and discrimination from mainland Japanese society. Through interviews with members of the group and video footage of performances, the film presents some of the social meanings of this Okinawan performing art as an expression of a minority culture. …

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