If you’re looking for Ireland you probably aren’t looking in Japan, but if you are in Japan and looking for Ireland there, then you want to look for Matsue.

The city maintains strong ties with Ireland thanks to Lafcadio Hearn’s Celtic background, and this year’s weekend Irish Festival will be March 12-13. I’ve written about it before (see 2013, 2014, and 2015), but how about a video instead?

Here’s a little recap in English (seeing as many of the visitors for this event speak Guinness better than they speak Japanese):

The main event is the two-part St. Patrick’s Day parade and performances on Sunday, though the Irish pub in the vault of the Karakoro Art Studio runs both Saturday and Sunday.

The water portion of the parade, on the Horikawa Sightseeing Boats which frequent the city center but will be specially clad in green on that day, will take off at 11am. The street parade depart from Matsue Castle at 12:40, following its opening ceremony at 12:30. It will take about an hour for the parade to do its jig on down to Karakoro Square, where performances from local music and dance groups will start at 1:30pm. Parade participants should register by March 7, and they should get as creative as they can with their green costumes, as they were will be prizes!

During the performances there will also be a little market to get food from local restaurants, buy handcrafts, or get your picture with the small parade of penguins who will also be participating. But I know, I know, you’re really here for the pub and the Guinness on tap. In addition to other drinks and an Irish menu, there will also be live performances closer to what you’d expect to an Irish pub than what you’d expect a group of Yosakoi or hip hop dancers to put on outside.

On Saturday the 12th, the pub will be open 5pm to 10pm, and on Sunday the 13th, from 1pm to 9pm. Don’t get too hungover!

The Karakoro Art Studio will be lit up in green every night until March 17th, with some special displays and Irish goods for sale in side. Matsue likes making events like St. Patricks Day and New Orleans’ style Mardi Gras last all month, after all.

You can get all the most current and detailed information on the event’s Facebook page. See you there then!

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.

Happy St. Patricks Day! Seeing as it’s a day for everyone to be a little Irish, there are a handful of spots in Japan that take advantage of the chance for revelry, but Matsue maintains a special soft spot for Ireland given the influence of writer Lafcadio Hearn, who was half-Irish. This was one of the biggest, sunniest Irish Festivals yet, though it sounds the Shamrock was even more lively! The Shamrock is the pub that takes over the vault of Karakoro Art Studio for this Saturday and Sunday–yes, of course there is Guinness, as well as a number of though Irish drinks, foods, and desserts using Irish recipes (and by that I mean many of them make sure of Irish alcohol in the cooking). This time I only took part in the parade and some Ceili dancing after the performances following the parade, so I’ll have to take that on good faith. Here are some snapshots of the Irish spirit in Matsue, several of which were taken by XiaoMan, seeing I was preoccupied with walking and waving and dancing and my humble camera has its limits. Thanks, XiaoMan!

Seeing as Matsue is called the City of Water, the events on Sunday the 9th started with a water parade.

This year the parade kicked off from Matsue Castle, where everyone first gathered to ogle at each other’s green ensembles. For many people, celebrating Ireland means a chance get creative with green costumes, and for many performing groups, that also means having taking advantage of having an audience already gathered. A couple of school marching bands are always present, some Yosakoi dancing groups shot their spirit, and even some kids get to show off their respective skills (though its anyone’s guess who has more fun with it, they or their parents).

After some opening greetings, including from our honored visiting Irish diplomats, the Matsue Castle Rifle Troop let off a salute, which was immediately followed by a couple of doves. There weren’t any in the parade, but we had lots of canine spectators decked out in green, too.

Making our way out of Matsue Castle, we passed by the city’s founder, Horio Yoshiharu, who seemed to give his blessing over the parade. I can’t help but find it funny that the Matsue Musha Gyoretsu Warrior Parade coming up in early April finishes up the parade at Matsue Castle instead, but since it’s done to recreated the procession into Matsue that makes sense. Sadly, I will be busy with a kimono contest that weekend and can’t attend this time–bummer! Also, I might add that the bagpiper played through the entire parade, which was pretty impressive, though he sure was out of breath by the end! Kudos to him for a good show.

What’s a modern day event in Japan without mascot characters present? By the way, the man in green (because that’s real specific) is Lafcadio Hearn’s great-grandson.

Yes indeed, those musicians are part of a traditional Irish music group. They perform both nights at the pub. Of course the Irish Festival is about more than just being green! That said, though we do wrap up the day with Ceili dancing, we don’t have much of a dedicated Irish step dance group out here.

But we did have hula dancers.

And a group dancing Michael’s Jacksons “Beat It,” including a group of bystanders who jumped in without warning to join them.

The final event (before everyone everyone packs up and heads inside for the pub for another six hours) was, as mentioned, the Ceili dancing, which the hula dancers graciously practiced in advance and lead us in. I think I picked it up a lot faster this year than I did last year!

To wrap this up, here’s one more photo of the rifle troop because they’re cool and they had a performance at the end of the parade as well. They practiced military drills according to how they would have been done in the Edo era, and by law, they only use antiques. I’m not sure how likely Lafcadio Hearn would have been to see this back in the Meiji era, but it’s a common sight around Matsue today, but they don’t usually have shamrock decorations on their attire.

I still have the step dance music stuck in my head. If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go attempt some Ceili dancing all by myself.