Mina Ishihara, 43, first visited Ireland in 1995 when she was a student at Tezukayama Gakuin University in Osaka, her hometown, where she studied English and linguistics. On that trip she visited Galway, a lively cultural city on the west coast of Ireland, partly because the professor who organized the trip had studied there many years before and was "fond of the city."

While it was only a two-week trip, her stay in the city left a lasting impression.

"I kept going back to Ireland," she says, recounting how she returned a few more times while traveling in Europe during her student days.