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.

In 10th month, most of Japan must go without their local kami, because they are all convening for their yearly meeting to decide how they’ll be influencing people in the year to come (more or less on an individual basis). Out here in the old Izumo province, however, we celebrate Kamiarizuki (literally, “the month with gods”) because they gather at Izumo Taisha (the second most important Shinto shrine).

Having kami around is generally a felicitous thing, so paired with the three day weekend, there were plenty of things to do in Matsue this weekend. I didn’t make it to everything I was invited to, but I fit in quite a bit. You’d think it would be hard to draw a crowd for anything going on because of how much is going on, but there was some giant outdoor gathering for everyone this weekend.

For starters, the Daichakai (“Big Tea Party”). I had been looking forward to this one for a while. Different schools of the tea ceremony set up tents around the castle grounds to do constant introductions of their respective styles.

A little hard to have an intimate ceremony with that many people, but it works.

The way it works is that you buy a ticket (or three), then turn in the ticket at the reception area of whatever style you want to try. They give you a colored and numbered ticket to turn in at the next open ceremony (the color indicates which time slot you have, the number is for organization purposes). There is typically a tent to wait in or observe flower arrangements. Once they start, everyone finds a seat in a rather orderly fashion, and one host prepares the tea while another explains the actions and decorations and characteristics of their style. The first and second guests (typically) receive tea prepared in front of everyone, while the other guests receive tea prepared behind the scenes by other practitioners. Before received the tea, everyone eats a fancy little wagashi (traditional Japanese sweet, which comes in all kinds of clever shapes and colors, and is usually identical in their level of sweetness–as in very, very sweet). In contrast, the tea is usually very bitter, but the contrast is refreshing.

Inside the tents, everyone is seated on a nice clean chair, and the ceremony typically goes pretty fast, meaning they probably serve several hundred guests over the course of two days. Instead of paper cups, in my experience every guest got to use a fancy cup/bowl, since appreciating the tools is also an important element of the tea ceremony.

This is Houenryu, which was very popular. This was more of an east-west fusion, with black tea instead of green tea, and European style China instead of traditional Japanese tools.

I didn’t participate, but I did enjoy the glimpse of tasteful fusion I did get.

I tried Soshinryu first, which served the tea in a more Chinese fashion–a delicate cup filled with loose leaves, which you keep pushed back with a matching lid as you sip the brew. It was served with an orange and pink and purple wagashi evoking maple leaves and filled with anko (sweet azuki bean paste).

After that I tried Fumairyu, the local style started by Fumai-ko. That had a lot of wabisabi influence (this is a rustic Japanese aesthetic that appreciates imperfection), and was a matcha (thick green tea made from powdered leaves), and had an orange and purple wagashi that looked simple like a piece of gyoza, and was once again filled with anko.

The following morning I went out to Meimei-an (the historic tea house), as this is one of the rare occasions when you can actually take part in a tea ceremony inside. It was removed from everything else and hidden away up a hill, so it certainly felt more formal. This was the Musha-Koujisenke, which was also matcha and had a green, purple, and pink wagashi coated in a sticky azuki bean concoction.

Lucky for me, kimono attire was not required. An umbrella would have been nice, though. Ninja rain attacks out of nowhere.

After the Daichakai, we went down to the south side of town for the annual Oden Summit. Oden is a seasonal food, and while there is a usual menu of Japanese ingredients, it pretty much consists of any collection of food items served in a hot broth (usually a fishy kind). It’s not quite like soup–you don’t eat it with a spoon, but take bites of the items and they gush with broth. It’s a bit of a comfort food, if you’re used to it.

This is closest to what comes to mind when I think of oden, though not necessarily shaped like Himeji castle (not a pine tree).

There were several Matsue vendors (with everything from traditional to Italian style), but also vendors from other prefectures (and Korea). I tried a couple traditional varieties and a kimchi one, but the curry flavored oden was my favorite.

After that, we checked out an event that seemed to have something to do with Nikoniko Doga (which is like, the Japanese version of YouTube, only with more active promotion? Does that sound like the best way to put it? I don’t have an account, so I don’t know…). It seemed to be aimed at a younger crowd, but there were plenty of people showcasing products and companies and organizations from everywhere.

While attendees at the Daichakai were dressed in fine kimono and western formal wear, youths here were also putting extra effort into the way they dressed. I liked seeing both styles!

There were performing groups and individuals on stages, and a group learning a dance to a pop song, and some famous (?) people giving autographs who people lined up to meet them, and then some wandering performers.



Practically across the street from the Oden Summit and lining any available space between the art museum and Lake Shinji, there was the Mizube Arts Festival, full of food and craft and clothing vendors, and jungle gyms for kids, painters working on giant canvases, and performers (both on large and small stages, or just on the grass with microphones, costumes, choreographed fighting and dramatic background music).

Also, notice that island in the distance behind the stage? This is one of the only weekends when you can visit it. So I did! But that’s a post for another time.

By the way, the kami aren’t actually here yet. They still meet meet according to the 10th month of the old Japanese lunar calendar, whereas the humans have switched to the Gregorian calendar.