The highlight of the Irish calendar in Japan is the St Patrick's Day parade and I love Ireland festival in the Omotesando / Yoyogi area of Tokyo every March. For the past 25 years the Irish have been painting the town green on the Sunday closest to St Patrick's day, which is March 17th annually. The after festival was only added in recent years, but it is proving to be as popular as the parade. I have been to most of the parades in the Kanto area over the years, but the one in Omote Sando is by far the biggest and best. And this was the first year my family attended the I Love Ireland festival.
St Patrick's Day Parade
This year St Patrick's day was on a Friday and the closest Sunday was the 19th of March, this past Sunday. We made our way to Tokyo to meet up with some of our Irish-Japanese community to enjoy the biggest St Patrick's day parade ever to be held in Tokyo. Apparently this year they reached their maximum cap of participants of 1,500 people. The number of spectators has yet to be confirmed, but judging by the crowd on the day, there were twice the number or spectators as participants, if not more. In keeping with the traditional festival back home, most of the spectators were wearing the colours of Ireland: green, white or orange or a combination of them all. There were lots of people donning leprechaun hats or wearing shamrock badges on their clothes, I saw quite a few people with shamrocks or flags painted on their face and there were even people in Irish kilts.
The parade loops the main Omote Sando thoroughfare. The road is 2 lanes wide each side, with a divider between the sides. The parade heads east from the entry / exit point and then loops to come West on the far side of the road and loops again at the bottom of the road and East to the entry / exit point. They close the whole road for about 45 minutes and for the rest of the time they work with sections. The full loop takes about an hour and a half, but each viewing point will only see the parade for about 30 minutes. You can walk with the parade from the sidewalk, you are not allowed enter the road where the participants are performing.
I have been to the Tokyo parade a number of times over the years, as has my eldest child, but it was the first time for all three of my girls to enjoy the festivities. They were absolutely mesmerized by the marching bands, dance performers and the variety of performers participating in the Sunday parade. This year there was even a Niall Horan fan club participating in the event. Niall Horan is an Irish singer-songwriter and guitarist, best known as a member of the boy band One Direction. The kids enjoyed the comedians dressed up as if they were leprechauns riding on another leprechaun. They also enjoyed all the Irish music, Irish dancing and Majorettes. But my personal favourite was actually the Samba music and Samba dance performers. Unlike the parade in Dublin, which is an event worth enjoying at least once in your life, there are no floats. The Tokyo St Patrick's day Parade is mainly live performances.
The parade started at 1 pm and the last act were exiting at the entry / exit point at around 2.30 pm. We had walked down toward Harajuku to catch the Samba act again before it exited the parade, but we got caught in a people wave and couldn't stop to spectate. It was by no means dangerous or intimidating, but such are the crowds that attend the Tokyo parade. We decided to walk with the crowd as we were going on to Yoyogi park for the I love Ireland festival anyway.
I love Ireland Festival
The I love Ireland festival is held in Yoyogi park, down beside the NHK studios in the Yoyogi Park outdoor stage area. There are dozens of booths selling Irish food and drink and general festival stalls and booths. The stalls and booths are open from early morning and there are a variety of live performances, such as music and dance, on the outdoor stage at different times during the day. There is a kids booth in the festival and this is where you can get the kids faces painted with shamrocks or Irish flags. If you would like to enjoy the live performances, there is seating for about 150 to 200 spectators in front of the stage, plus lots of standing room. You can hear the music from the stall / plaza area too. The stage area was completely packed on Sunday and there were plenty of people watching from the plaza area as well. The stage viewing area was a sea of green. The main stage performances on the Sunday afternoon were musical, one had some Irish dancers perform too. The Irish Ambassador to Japan, Anne Barrington, spoke on stage on Sunday afternoon and stayed around to enjoy the festivities for a time after.
I could hear so many true Irish accents at the festival in Yoyogi park and most of the people I spoke with originated from Ireland. There were of course lots of Japanese in attendance, some of whom have a connection with Ireland in someway, some who are fans of Ireland and some who had just come to see what all the "Rí rá agus ruaile buaile"(Irish for the noise and atmosphere created by folks having a good time) was about. There was also a large percentage of foreigners a lot of whom were Americans, some who are stationed in Japan and some passing through. I even met one Irish-American family who had timed their visit to Japan, just to witness the Tokyo St Patrick's day parade and I love Ireland festival.
St Patrick's Day Parade
Date：Annually on the closest Sunday to St Patrick's Day March 17th
Time : 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Venue: Omotesando - Harajuku, Tokyo
Access: 5 minute-walk from JR Harajuku Station or Tokyo Metro Omotesando Station, minutes walk from Meiji-Jingu Mae metro station.
I love Ireland Festival
Date: The day before (Saturday) and day of (Sunday) the St Patrick's day parade
Time: 10 am to 6 pm / 5 pm
Venue: Yoyogi Park Outdoor Stage
Access: Minutes walk from JR Harajuku Station and about 7 minute walk from Metro Meiji-Jingu Mae station.
More information on St Patrick's day events on City-cost.com: https://www.city-cost.com/blogs/City-Cost/G6QDz