JIN-457 -- Ireland Japan Relations

The ‘JIN’ Japan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 457 Wednesday March 19, 2008, Tokyo

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The poet WB Yeats was fascinated by Japan. He cherished a sword
that was presented to him as a gift by Junzo Sato in 1920 –
featured in his poem ’A Dialogue of Self and Soul’ – and later,
Zen Buddhism made a significant impact on his writings. However,
according to the Ireland in Japan society, people to people
links between Japan and Ireland go back to at least 1704, when
sailor Robert Hansen was captured off the coast of Kyushu.
Later, in the nineteenth century, John William Fenton from
County Cork ended up training the military brass band in
Yokohama and is credited with having composed the original
melody for ‘Kimigayo’ – the Japanese national anthem.

In the modern era, the Irish community of Japan is a vociferous
and popular section of the foreign community. Last Sunday, St.
Patrick’s Day, saw the annual parade down Omotesando – a
landmark avenue in the heart of the capital’s most fashionable
area, closed off for the occasion. There were gigantic
inflatable pints of Guiness, riverdancers, bagpipers, singers,
lepricorns and sections of the parade representing all manner of
Japan-Irish associations and societies, from the ‘Shamrock
Ladies’ (who put on Irish-themed events) to the local Gaelic
football team. It was an enchanting spectacle, with both
Japanese and foreigners from all over world celebrating
Irishness. There were painted faces, oversize green hats and
the occasional stab at a jig or a song. Other Gaelic communities
also managed to get involved – we spotted at least one Scottish
flag and the ‘Bretons of Japan’ also made an appearance in the
parade.

We spoke to Neil Day, General Manager of Paddy Foley’s Irish Pub
in Roppongi, who was leader of the parade. He told us that this
year was the 17th parade but that it has evolved a lot since it
first started – he was there at the first one when there were
about 50 people and it took only 20 minutes to complete the
route. Things have certainly moved on since then with Sunday’s
event attracting thousands and taking up a good chunk of the
afternoon. ‘Back in the day there were no Irish pubs in Tokyo
but today there are about 30 and those, together of course with
the energetic enthusiasm of the INJ (Irish Network Japan), have
seen St. Patrick’s Day really take off in Japan.’ The INJ that
Mr Day refers to (http://www.inj.or.jp/index_e.html) is the key
driving force behind the event and is a hub for many of the 1200
or so Irish people living in Japan as well as many others who
have some sort of connection to the country. For Day the parade
is ‘a chance for everyone to have the opportunity to feel Irish
and to celebrate Irish culture – it was an honor to be Grand
Marshall. ’

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Last year, Ireland and Japan celebrated 50 years of diplomatic
relations and Tokyo Tower was lit up green. This year the theme
is ‘another 50 years’ and to mark this the two governments have
introduced an work exchange visa that will make it easier for
Irish people to work in Japan and visa versa. In terms of
business, both countries enjoy a growing relationship; the Japan
Ireland Economic Association was founded in 1973 and this
January re-established itself as the Ireland Japan Chamber of
Commerce. Among its corporate members are financial planners
IFG Asia, IT outsourcing unit EIRE systems and MHD Diageo along
with Japanese members Astellas pharmaceuticals (who have a plant
in Killorglin) and Fujikin technology (who have a production
unit in Waterford); this illustrates a genuinely cross-industry
level of involvement and interaction.

Culturally, as well as Yeats' interest, James Joyce apparently
met some Japanese writers in Paris and words such as 'kaminari'
(thunder) found themselves woven in to the rich linguistic
tapestry of 'Finnegan's Wake.' (http://winki.co.uk/~0X2m)
Meanwhile Irish dancing is very popular in Japan and one of
the Riverdance show cast members Takayuki Hayashi quit his job
as an IT consultant in Tokyo to pursue his dream of starring in
the show after he saw it performed in Japan in 2000. Needless
to say, the Japan Irish Dancing Association was out in force on
St Patrick's Day.

For readers wishing to find out more about Japan-Ireland
relations we recommend the following sites:
http://www.irishembassy.jp/
http://www.inj.or.jp/index_e.html
http://www.ie.emb-japan.go.jp/
http://www.jiea.org/

By Peter Harris
Editor-in-Chief

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