St Patrick’s Festivities

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St Patrick’s Day was a few weeks ago now, but hopefully not too late to read about. The past two years in Japan I just stayed in Kanazawa for St Patrick’s Day and went out for an expensive glass of Guinness with my compatriots. This year, however, I was inspired by my students to mark the occasion properly. In February and March my students were learning about Ireland in their textbook and they had to do a presentation about the country and its culture. It was interesting to see what the students researched; Irish sports like hurling and gaelic football, famous places like the cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway, foods like Irish stew and soda bread. Because Ireland doesn’t have a traditional costume like the Japanese kimono, some students talked about Irish dancing costumes and Aran jumpers. They were interested to know that Jonathan Swift was Irish because Gulliver’s Travels is a popular children’s book in Japan. I’m glad that they could find out more about Ireland than just our reputation for drinking.

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I’ve never been to the parade in Dublin city because you have to get there early to stake out a spot, transport is difficult and there are a lot of drunk people around. Most years though, I went to my hometown’s parade. Sports teams and various clubs and groups would walk/perform, local businesses would advertise and give out sweets to the kids watching, and vintage car/motorcycle/tractor enthusiasts would drive.

In March there are St Patrick’s Day events held in cities all over Japan, from Okinawa to Tokyo. On Saturday 15th there was a parade in Yokohama and one in Tokyo on the 16th, so I went to the Kansai area to visit both of them. The Irish Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald and the Irish Ambassador John Neary were in attendance.

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The Yokohama parade was held at 1 o’clock in Motomachi, just beside Chinatown. It went down a narrow street so as it went by, it felt like the spectators were part of the parade too. It was only a small parade, but I was very impressed with the groups in it. After the Irish pub sponsors came groups of traditional musicians and dancers, who would pause regularly to play or dance for the crowd. It was how I imagine seeing foreigners in kimono must seem to the Japanese at first – a little uncanny, but great to see people interested in your culture (especially if you don’t appreciate it as much as you should). Some of the musicians were really good, and the little girls doing step dancing were so cute in their outfits.

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There were also non-Irish-related groups in the parade such as a Chinese restaurant, and several marching bands, which added some international flavour, which suited the Yokohama setting. As well as the Chinatown, there’s a US military base and some international schools in the city.

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The biggest St Patrick’s Day parade is in Harajuku, Tokyo, where it has been running since 1992. Unfortunately I missed that parade because I was too busy enjoying the first ever ‘I Love Ireland’ festival in Yoyogi park, just a few minutes away. There was a stage where performers sang, danced or played music, food and drink stands, and stalls selling Irish products or promoting Irish businesses. A lot of people there were wearing green and there was a great atmosphere.

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Colcannon, fish and chips, and … nachos.

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