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St. Patrick’s Day festivities offer sampler of Emerald Isle culture

by Kazuaki Nagata

Irish culture enthusiasts in Tokyo celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in the friendly confines of an Irish-style pub Sunday, enjoying traditional performances and Guinness beer at an annual gathering of the Japan-Ireland Society.

Irish flags and green decorations were ubiquitous at the Roundstone, an Irish pub in Shinagawa Ward, where dozens gathered for the event.

Participants warmed up the venue, chatting and quaffing Guinness and green beer, many sporting green attire. The event officially kicked off at 2 p.m. with a band playing Irish music, the sounds of a flute wafting through the wood-accented pub.

But the celebration is more than just a pub gathering and a chance to enjoy a pint; the event is billed as a sampler of Irish culture.

“Every year, we try and think hard to come up with (cultural) programs,” said Kenichi Matsumura, who chairs the Japan-Ireland Society, which has about 350 members, including Irish residents in Japan and Japanese studying Irish culture.

St. Patrick’s Day, which officially falls on March 17, is the anniversary of the death of Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.

This year’s event featured a theatrical workshop by the Irishbull Art Theater, with troupe members performing scenes from “At the Hawk’s Well” by renowned Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).

Yeats was influenced by Japanese art and included elements of traditional Japanese noh theater in his works.

Society members also performed a play based on “The Well of the Saints,” written by John Millington Synge, a prominent Irish writer.

Attendees were introduced to traditional Irish dances — the bolder ones giving it a whirl themselves.

The St. Patrick’s Day event is always cordial and relaxed, giving the chance to experience a bit of the Emerald Isle.

Society member Noriko Ito said people were really able to get a taste of Ireland from the pub setting and cultural programs, some participants said.

Ito, an English professor who also researches Irish literature at Tezuka University in Nara Prefecture, said she loves Ireland for its fascinating culture as well as its cheerful and heartwarming people.

“I’d like more people to know more about Ireland,” Ito said.

Aisling Braiden, the press and cultural attache at the Irish Embassy, said she is happy to see that Japanese people have such enthusiasm for Irish culture.

“I am amazed how much Japanese people know about Ireland and how they love Irish music and Irish dance.

“It’s great to be able to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day together. . . . You really feel that culture crosses all borders.”

Japan-Ireland Society Chairman Matsumura said the event, which has been held every year since the society was founded in 1963, has become more important over the years.

The society holds other regular events,including a monthly Gaelic class and studies in Irish history and literature.