By Avi Landau
The Japanese love to celebrate! Despite having their own very full calendar of traditional annual events* – each involving distinct festive foods and decorations, they have also gone and adopted, with great enthusiasm, certain Western events – some involving special foods and decorations, and all requiring plenty of shopping! I`m talking about Christmas, Halloween, Mothers` Day, Father’s Day, the Japanese version of Valentine’s Day (in which women give gifts -mainly chocolate- to men) and its counter-balance: White Day (on which men return the gift, usually with something white in color, like cookies!)
The rise in popularity of these newer festivals is to a large part due to the promotional activities of certain business concerns: Cake makers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Toys-R-Us, fancy Western-style restaurants and romantic hotels for Japan`s version of Christmas, Chocolate makers for Valentine`s Day ( former Prime Minister Abe`s wife Akie is the daughter of the former president of Morinaga, the big confectioner that first introduced Valentine`s Day to the Japanese), cookie-makers on White Day, snack-makers of all sorts for Halloween – and department stores and flowers shops for Mothers and Fathers Days. Years of concerted advertising campaigns have helped make these imported “special days” a part of everyone`s lives here in Japan. What helped make it so natural for the Japanese to adopt them though, is their natural love of seasonal foods and decoration.
It should come as no surprise then that certain enterprises (namely Guinness beer and all the pubs in Japan that sell it) as well as lovers of all things Irish (and there are quite a few in Japan – myself among them!), have tried to promote St. Patrick`s Day in Japan. And you know what, it seems to be catching on! In fact, there was supposed be a TWO-DAY celebration of things Irish in Tokyo this past weekend – in one of the city`s most exciting areas – Omotesando, where the fancy meets the solemn and the trendy (and where one of the most exclusive shopping streets meets the Meiji Shrine and the teen-fashion Mecca of Takeshita-dori). There were supposed to me events held in other cities as well. As you know, though, the coronavirus has had them all cancelled
However, I wouldn`t be surprised if in ten years St. Patrick`s Day became as big as Halloween (another festival of Celtic origin) is now in Japan – though oriented more towards young adults than children (with beer instead of sweet treats). They already have the Green tea, green ice cream, and green soft drinks (called melon soda) as well as a soft spot for the melancholy melodies that evolved on a green island (like their own), off the other end of the Eurasian continent**.
Sadly, St. Patrick`s Day festivities in Tsukuba have all but disappeared – perhaps because we are so near the big events in Tokyo. From 2008-2012 we actually had our own Irish street festival here – and before that that, my band, The Tengooz, would always play a raucous St. Patrick`s Day Live at Corkheads and the other great pubs we used to have around here.
For those who remember those wild nights of drinking, dancing and comradery, I`d like to post a recording of a song that was always one the highlights of our show, a song that got everyone riled up into a frenzy – especially the members of the band!
It`s called Inishmore and its based on memories from a trip I took to the western part of Ireland.
Here are the lyrics:
INNISHMORE ( words and music by Avi Landau)
One year I had the notion
for to cross the wild ocean
over to the Emerald Isle
to ramble for a while
Among the wild flowers
and ancient stony towers
spinnin` yarns and telling jokes
with amicable folks
I spied her while I was inside a Celtic music store
I had a glance `twas enough I had to have one more
she headed west down to the ferry when she left the door
I followed her and sailed the waters out to Inishmore
When we pulled from the shore
I could see the cliffs of Moher
as majestic as can be
being pounded by the sea,
and then starboard seven miles
lay the three lone Aran Isles,
I don`t believe you`ve seen
so many shades of green
I hopped ashore and followed stone wall mazes over grass
I scoured the island everywhere – but couldn`t find the lass
the burning feeling that beguiled me soon began to pass,
I sat and stared out to the waters from a lonely wall on Inishmore
That`s me on the vocals
Jon Hicks on the drums
Hase G on bass
Kenya Sagara on trombone
and Tanaka on Guitar
Another special “Irish” memory for me in Tsukuba was running into Paddy Malone of the Chieftains just outside Nova Hall.
Have a Happy St. Patrick`s Day!
* Many of these Japanese traditional events originated in Tang China, were brought into Japan in the 8th century, and over the years took on a Japanese character of their own (long after having been forgotten in their native China : There is New Years (Sho-gatsu) with a wide assortment of festive decoration and cuisine, then January 7th for eating NANAGUSA GAYU, Setsubun in the beginning of February with its demon masks, bean-throwing and sardine-head door post decorations, the Hina Festival (Girls` Day) of March 3 and Boys` Day on May 5 – with their sometimes extravagant decorations and distinctive dishes, Tanabata of July 7 are the events of Chinese origin which are still celebrated by most Japanese. Besides these there are the uniquely Japanese events and regional and local events as well. So when I told you that the Japanese like to celebrate, I meant it!
** Because of their locations off their respective ends of Eurasia both Ireland and Japan became important repositories of continental culture that had been destroyed by invaders (the Visigoths, Franks, Angles and Ostrogoths, etc. in Western Europe and the Mongols in China). Monasteries in both these island countries preserved the learning and customs that were lost after the “barbarian” invasions on the continent.