Amongst many distinctions of different kinds, Tokyo has one that merits affectionate attention. Tokyo hosts the only Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Asia.
This parade is still several weeks away, but it is already receiving mention for what promises to be the longest one ever held here, and the most imaginative in its conjuring of Emerald Isle atmosphere. Dancers and musicians will parade on Omote-sando along with the many local wearers of the green from Tokyo’s Irish community.
The Emerald Ball 2000 is also still several weeks away. This year marks the eighth consecutive year since the ball’s inception. It is the annual fundraising event for the Ireland Fund of Japan, which supports deserving causes in Japan and Ireland.
Mary Cogan, this year’s cochairwoman, is from Dublin. Between school and marriage, she spent 10 years working in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. According to Mary, Trinity College, or the University of Dublin, was founded in 1591, making it the oldest university in Ireland, and one of Europe’s oldest and finest. The library where she worked is housed in an early 18th century building. It holds a notable collection of early Irish manuscripts, and is scheduled in the Copyright Act as entitled to receive a copy of every volume published in the United Kingdom. Mary says that she held a very good position in the Acquisitions Department of the library, and loved her work.
Since marrying in Dublin, and having three children there, Mary has been a committed, conscientious wife and mother. The family had its first opportunity to live abroad when they went to the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain.
Mary said: “I was nervous at first, but soon found that we could enjoy a very nice lifestyle there. It was ideal for the ages of our children at that time.”
She became so involved with the Irish community in Bahrain that, as a committee member of the Bahrain Irish Society, she worked on organizing many social events, including the annual Irish Ball there.
Returning to Ireland after an absence of three years called for readjustment. Two years ago the prospect of coming to Japan meant readjustment over again.
“The children had to cope with a different educational system, but after the early difficulties they have had great benefits. They have made many international friends, and traveled to wonderful places. At the same time, their Irishness is very important to them.”
Regarding herself as a “full-time mother,” Mary plays her role in the sporting, musical and social lives of her children. She is currently vice president of the Mothers’ Association of Seisen International School. Her husband is director, Asia Pacific, for the Irish government’s Industrial Development Agency.
Mary brought with her to Tokyo her Bahrain experience in running an Irish ball. For the two years that she has been here, she has been a committee member for the Emerald Ball. She says the ball “has always been an elegant and fun-filled night. It is established as a major evening in the Tokyo social calendar.”
The Ireland Fund of Japan, for which the Emerald Ball raises money, is one of 12 independent trust funds and foundations that constitute the Ireland Funds worldwide. Its primary purpose is to raise money internationally for the promotion of peace, culture and charity in Ireland and in the host countries.
Here in Japan, money raised has been applied to environmental projects and disaster relief. It has also been used to help support festivals, theater groups and art workshops. In Tokyo it has donated to the Franciscan Chapel Center Outreach Program, which assists foreign nationals in unusual need.
The Ireland Fund of Japan has also assisted environmental groups in Ireland. It subscribes to the conservation of Ireland’s archaeological heritage, has made a grant toward the publishing of an anthology of Irish writing on Lafcadio Hearn, and has given to special programs for underprivileged children.
Mary points out that some deserving causes helped by the Ireland Fund are perhaps small and local and so do not get the attention of big sponsors. “Nonetheless they are just as deserving of support as the high-profile charity causes around us,” she said.
The Emerald Ball 2000 is scheduled for The Westin Tokyo Hotel, Ebisu, on Friday, March 3. At the ball raffle tickets will be sold, offering as the top prize round-trip tickets to Ireland with accommodation in luxury hotels.