Paddy’s Day Get ready!
March is not a very exciting time in Japan. On the 14th there’s “White Day” which is a bit of a non-event and then there’s “Shunbun no Hi” (Vernal Equinox ) on the 21st, which few understand but many enjoy because it’s a long weekend. But wait! The next big thing to hit Japan is all things Irish, including green beer and St. Patrick’s Day. Read on…
The average Irishman’s knowledge of Japan can be summed up quite easily: sake, sumo, sushi. If he feels guilty for stereotyping, he can comfort himself with the fact that the world recognizes Ireland’s National Holiday simply as an occasion to pull on a green shirt, sing songs of the old country and, of course, consume as much alcohol (preferably Guinness) as possible.
Millions of livers, from Dublin to Chicago, New York to Sydney (and now Fukuoka), scream in anticipation of March 17. As a tide of green beer washes over all before it, St. Patrick the man is often engulfed lost in a hazy hangover of whiskey fumes and nostalgic songs. Most of the English-speaking world recognizes the name of the Irish saint, but how many associate it with the spread of Christianity, rather than an excuse to better acquaint themselves with the bottom of a pint of Guinness?
There are a variety of opinions concerning Patrick’s life. Most agree that the Saint was kidnapped by raiders and sold to slavery in Ireland. After escaping, Patrick is said to have received a vision telling him to return to Ireland and convert the pagan people.
Patrick needed the support of the Irish king in order to carry out his mission, but first he needed to capture his attention. On “Bealtaine” (Bal-chin-nya), the Pagan sun festival, the king traditionally lit the first fire of spring. In direct opposition to orders, Patrick quickly built his own huge blaze. Brought before the king, Patrick preached, using the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. So impressed was the Irish leader that he gave the saint his blessing to preach throughout the country.
Another fact any Irishman can tell you and, given the chance, no doubt will is that Ireland is one of the few countries with no native snakes. An ecological freak? Perhaps. But legend has it that St Patrick, a little peeved at the snake population in general after the serpent/Eve fiasco, decided to take action. He climbed one of Ireland’s highest mountains, from where he delivered a sermon banishing all snakes from the country. “Sounds a little too Gandalf and Lord of the Rings” I hear you cry, but, to this day, there isn’t a snake to be seen in the Emerald Isle.
So come March 17 this year, spare a thought for the saint between gulps and, who knows, maybe he’ll banish hangovers from Fukuoka.
Shamrock: A small three-leafed plant similar to a clover. The shamrock is Irelandﾕs national symbol. It is widely believed that St Patrick used this little plant in his explanation of the Holy Trinity of Christianity to pagans. A shamrock is worn on St Patrick’s Day, when drinking alcohol is known as “drowning the shamrock” (the rest of the year it is simply referred to as breakfast, lunch and dinner).
Leprechaun: Leprechauns are small, old men dressed as shoemakers. These little fellows are known for their trickery and, while capturing one will bring you three wishes or a pot of gold, if you take your eye off him for a second, he’ll disappear!
Irish whisky: True “Irish” whiskey is distilled from native Irish grains and stored in a wooden cask for three years or more. Ironically, Irish whiskey is cheaper in Fukuoka than in Ireland.
Ah, Guinness, the world’s number one stout beer! Founded in Dublin by Arthur Guinness himself back in 1759, Guinness has given pleasure to generations of punters ever since.
St Patrick’s Day Celebratory customs
Unsurprisingly, the hub of St Patrick’s Day celebrations is the pub. Barmen the world over rub their hands together in anticipation of March 17. Pubs in Irish areas of Sydney, New York and London are jam-packed. Ireland itself is worse. With tourists willing to take a trip to the Emerald Isle simply to soak up the Paddy’s Day atmosphere (and a pint or ten), the drinking establishments in Dublin, like their punters, are overflowing. As live bands play and the rounds keep rolling in, the atmosphere is positively euphoric. Friends and families gather together to do what the Irish do best, and long into the night renditions of “The Irish Rover” and “Molly Malone” echo through Ireland’s cities.
St. Patrick’s Day Parades
It would be no exaggeration to say that the US buys into St. Patrick’s Day celebrations as least as much as Ireland itself. In terms of Parades, America tops the participatory toll, with 50 being held in New York alone last year (there were 26 in Ireland, two in England and one in Japan). Participants don green and flood the streets with floats, stalls and the mandatory beer. Charms are chucked, flags brandished and songs bellowed as folk make their way round the city, led by “St Patrick” himself.
Rivers in both Dublin and Chicago have been dyed green during parades, but the emerald take-over doesn’t stop there. Green food dye is added to beer, cocktails and food such as ice cream. Guinness even releases a green limited edition – this is one day that you can be guaranteed to consume all the greens you need, and be showing it the next day
In the interest of color coordination, come March 17, everyone in Ireland, and revellers globally, are required to don their green garbs. The Emerald Isle is known for its “40 shades of green” and every single one is represented several times over by Irish folk on Paddy’s Day. Any non-compliance results in “the pinch” inflicting pain is actively promoted if people aren’t “wearin’ the green.”
Mari-chan catches up with resident “Paddy,” Kevin, in his local…
OK, Kevin, let’s start with what we already know we’ve heard of Guinness, but tell us about other Irish drinking habits
The Japanese say “if it flies, walks, crawls or swims, eat it before it can eat you.” Well, we Irish have much the same attitude to drinking: do it quick. There are a few dangerous exceptions: coke, orange, milk, tea, coffee and an especially nasty little number called water. All a waste of valuable time because you stay sober.
So we’d be on safer ground if we stuck to?
Guinness, Whiskey (Black Bush, Bushmills, Jameson’s all from good Irish families), Bailey’s, Irish Mist, Black Velvet and Caffreys and Kilkenny’s ales. Oh, and “Po-cheen” (Er, how d’you spell that “P-O-I-T-I-N” ), it’s an illegal mountain dew similar to Japanese shochu; it’s made from potatoes, but about three times stronger!
And how about the famous slogan, “Guinness is good for you”? True?
Well, Guinness is prescribed by doctors to recovering patients who can’t eat solid food. It’s used in cooking and even as a shampoo (I swear my grandmother only buys the black stuff for its silkening properties!)
OK. Perhaps we should move off booze, tell us about Irish erm music.
Yeah, pronounced in Japanese as “Enya.” But seriously, quite a few Irish artists have recently made their mark on the world music scene. The biggest name is definitely U2, followed by Sinead O’Connor, but now there’s also the Corrs, Boyzone, Ronan Keating (the one that sung the theme to “Notting Hill,” terrible nonsense film that it wasﾉ) and Westlife, whoﾕve had more consecutive British number ones than the Beatles!
Eh! Honto? And what about a good old Irish jig?
That’s mostly down to Michael “Lord of the Dance” Flatley. It all started when Irish traditional dancing, a kind of highly disciplined tap dancing (move your legs, keep your arms still), was shown during the interval of the Eurovision Song Contest and so “Riverdance” was born. It turned into a kind of dance extravaganza, touring the world, including Fukuoka, about three years ago.
Time for some facts. Hit us, O Knowledgeable Green One
Right. Population. Ireland has about 6,500,000 people (and 6,500,001 pubs) so it’s comparable (to some extent) with Fukuoka Prefecture. Dublin, the capital, is also roughly the same size as Fukuoka City. The size of the island is similar to Hokkaido. There are only four provinces divided into 32 counties. The country has only nine cities: Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Derry, Waterford, Armagh and Kilkenny. We have two official languages: English and Gaelic, (the latter spoken mainly in the west). And DID YOU KNOW the English word “whiskey” comes from the Gaelic “uisce bheatha” meaning “water of life?” Speaking of which, the beer’s getting flat and the whisky’s getting warm, so if you wouldn’t mind
Ok but first, tell us about Irish sport.
We love sport as long as it’s not cricket or something equally dull. Soccer is huge in Ireland, as the whole “Roy Keane sent home from the World Cup” saga shows. We also have native Irish-only sports like “hurling,” which is an ancient, extremely fast team game similar to lacrosse. We also invented Gaelic football, which the Aussies borrowed and corrupted. Every year the best in Ireland and Australia compete in a combined rules match.
And do the Irish team show up on time? I hear the Irish aren’t exactly punctual.
Punctual? The word doesn’t exist in the Irish vernacular. If a bus comes 30 minutes late, it’s 20 minutes earlier than usual. The police station in my town only opens every other day, bars close when everyone goes home or the pumps run dry Oh, and never ask an Irishman for directions, if you want to know the way in Ireland, ask another, more experienced tourist.
And what culinary delicacies might we expect to sample on an excursion to Ireland?
Potatoes. Mashed, boiled, chipped, fried, roasted, gratin, creamed, champ, colcannon, potato bread… served on a bed of potatoes.
So are there more famous Irish people than dishes?
Oh yeah, and loads you never knew had the green blood flowing through their veins: J.F.K., Bernardo O’Higgins *- he’s the bloke who liberated Chile in 1810 and became its first president. And writers: James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift and Seamus Heaney, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Also the creator of Dracula, Bram Stoker, and the inimitable Oscar Wilde.
(* Kevin promises he didn’t make this up)
But what about the big screen? Colin Farrell was top Irish totty in Minority Report. Any others?
Remember Dumbledore? None other than Limerick’s finest, Richard Harris. And Oscar Schlinder? Liam Neeson. Even the most English of English, James Bond 007 Pierce Brosnan is an Irishman!
So Mari-chan, that’s the craic on Ireland, no small potatoes, eh?
Irish community in Fukuoka
The Celtic Society of Japan
Concerts, film showings and regular meetings are held at least three times a year. The groups seeks to promote understanding of Celtic culture and Ireland in general. Web: http://www.celtic.or.jp/
Irish Set Dancing
Members get together once a month to practice set dancing in groups of eight in a casual and fun atmosphere. Contact Ms. Toh 092-553-4500