Thanks for all the photos in this entry, XiaoMan!

It’s not quite St. Patrick’s Day, but the Irish Festival in Matsue was held last Sunday with bright, sunny, warm March weather–not weather very representative of Ireland or the San’in region, but it felt lucky!

There are a handful of cities in Japan that celebrate with parades for St. Patrick’s Day, but Matsue is likely one of the only places that incorporates a water parade around the castle moats in addition to the land parade through the streets. There are regulars, and there are also extras who take the chance to dress up in whatever they want (or dress up their dogs), so long as it is green. This year, my favorite was a pair of siblings dressed as Peter Pan and Negiman.

Like the other times I’ve taken part in the festival in 2013 and 2014, the parades were only one element of the festival. Perhaps what draws the most boisterous crowd is The Shamrock, the Irish pub set up in the vault of the Karakoro Art Studio with Guinness on tap, an Irish food and dessert menu, and a constant stream of live performances. Although there is a mix of music and otherwise, you can expect instrumental versions of traditional Irish jigs and even punk-rock approaches to old Irish ballads.

At the same time, larger performances are going on outside of the art studio following the parade. Everything from jugglers to hip hop dancers to marching bands and Yosakoi dancers to aspiring idol groups. Although many of these teams already have red, blue, or gold uniforms, they all made sure to add some green.

Irish Ambassador to Japan Ms. Anne Barrington arrived in Japan last September, and this was one of her stops what will probably be her busiest month yet. This is already her third visit to Matsue, and her first time to see the Irish Festival held here. Although there is no formal exchange relationship in place, Matsue is a key city in Japan-Ireland relations given the connections through Lafcadio Hearn. As a Irish emigrant to Japan mentioned to me, she’s noticed much more public awareness and familiarity with Ireland here as opposed to other cities. There’s a level of enthusiasm for it even among the people who don’t show up to the festival, as everywhere I’ve been this week people have been bringing it up. While not measurable in numbers, inspiring people to have an awareness and curiousity about other cultures without twisting their arms into it is a sign of healthy “internationalization” (a keyword in the goals of the JET Program, however it is that the phrase is supposed to be defined). There is also exchange in more measurable terms, such as a new gift the city is preparing to send to Tramore, County Waterford’s Lafcadio Hearn Garden Project, which is opening later this year.

Ah, that’s one more thing that makes this feel like a typical Matsue-style Irish Festival. It’s totally normal to stand around Matsue Castle and interupt smalltalk with, “Oh, look. A ninja.”

XiaoMan had a fancy camera with a long lens to capture this not-so-rare sight.

Although occasionally spotting ninja around the castle grounds is a fun little part of life here, watching one of them the ninja that attended that day get into a fight with a can of Guinness (and lose) is another little thing that makes the Irish Festival special.