Japan gets keen on green for Paddy’s Day party

Japan gears up for weekend of fun, games and copious craic to mark Ireland's national day

by Barry Brophy

The great, the good and the goths of trendy Harajuku are in for a shock on March 16, when the chic shopping district will be taken over by Tokyo’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

And the raucous street party, held to honor the man who reputedly drove the snake population out of the Emerald Isle, is sure to have the more faint of heart among Sunday shoppers scurrying for cover.

Omotesando-dori has already been festooned in Irish flags and bunting in preparation for the festivities, which kick of at 2 p.m. and run until 4 p.m.

Penciled in for the day’s cross-cultural jiggerypokery are the U.S. Army Band, the Tokyo Pipe Band, the CCE Japan Dancers, the East Japan Irish Dance Association and the Senshu University Cheerleading Club, among others.

Also sure to send pulses racing and spark nationwide trends are the girls of Celtic Spice — an all-female Japanese group offering their racy take on traditional Irish dancing.

Adding to the baton-twirling, flag-waving, stout-slugging and general blarney will be a host of Ireland-related events held by brewing companies, Tokyo’s plethora of Oirish bars and fans of Irish music and culture from all over Japan.

One of a series of events organized worldwide to mark Ireland’s national day, the Tokyo Parade has come a long way since its humble beginnings 12 years ago in Roppongi.

Last year’s parade attracted over 1,000 participants, with a further 10,000 lining leafy Omotesando-dori to cheer them on.

The parade is organized every year by the Irish Network Japan (INJ), a nonprofit group that aims to boost cultural exchange between Japan and Ireland. The INJ also receives support from the Embassy of Ireland in Japan.

“And this year’s parade is sure to be the biggest ever,” promises INJ committee member Aisling Braiden.

There will also be a parade in Kyoto, organized by the city’s INJ chapter.

This year’s Tokyo parade will be especially significant for one group of participants.

Squad members from Japan’s Special Olympics team will join in the fun on March 16, no doubt to soak up some atmosphere before they head off to Ireland this summer for the World Games, which is being held outside the U.S. for the first time.

Moreover, Japan itself will be hosting the Winter Special Olympics in Nagano in 2005, the first time the World Games will be held in Asia.

The parade itself is just one of a series of Irish events taking place during March 15-16, under the banner of “Irish Festival 2003.”

On March 15, the Yokohama Cricket and Athletic Club will hold an Irish Sports Day, featuring traditional Irish sports.

Gaelic football will be played by a Japanese High School team, a ladies GAA team, and, later, in the main event of the day, in the Ned Kelly Cup, contested by the Australian “Goannas” and the Japan Irish.

Meanwhile, the “Puc Fada” will test the skills of stick-wielding participants at the age-old Irish sport of hurling.

Ireland Festival 2003 takes place the weekend of March 15-16. An Irish Sports Day will take place March 15 at Yokohama Country and Athletic Club, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. St. Patrick’s Day Parade will take place on Omotesando-dori on March 16, from 2-4 p.m. For more information, see: www.inj.or.jp