It's now that time of year when Irish festivals spring up around the world, tall leprechaun hats are donned and sales of Guinness soar. On St. Patrick's Day, from Toronto to Tokyo, you can dance a jig in your "authentic" Irish-themed pub and celebrate the cultural influence of the Irish diaspora throughout the world.

It's an appropriate time to think about "Irishness" and how it differs from "being Irish." My subject matter here is the connections between Ireland and Irish emigre communities throughout the world, but it applies equally to all manner of emigre communities — from the relationship of Italian-Americans to Italy, Yoruba-Brazilians to Nigeria or Korean-Japanese to Japan. I'd also like to explore how bicultural tension can affect relationships with other cultures, including Japan.

Let's start by considering a culturally loaded term you may have heard: "plastic Paddy." This is used to refer to people who, despite not actually being Irish, assume all the stereotypical attributes of the Irish. This can take all kinds of weird manifestations, from devotion to Irish folk music to fervent opinions on the travesties of Irish political history — or in extreme forms, even affecting an Irish accent.