Kyoto: St Patrick’s Day Festival

Last week we were invited to a party with some new friends. It was a lovely evening, easily one of the best of our travels. Sometime after dinner one of the guys mentioned that he was helping out with a St Patrick’s Day Festival. Another new friend, an English teacher, murmured to us, “This is not very typical. I doubt many Japanese know about St Patrick’s Day!” Before we left their house that night, the festival volunteer gave us a flyer.

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When Sunday rolled around we went to check it out. The festival was in a mall in a part of town we hadn’t been to before, but we were able to find it easily. Next door was a gym (we could clearly see women doing exercises in an upstairs room). When we got inside the mall, we discovered that it was an outdoor complex arranged around a central courtyard with a stage, and that’s where the festival was happening.

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The attendees seemed to be about 85% Japanese. Some of them had dressed for the occasion in green and orange. When I remarked on this to Erik, he touched his sweater and said, “Mine was by accident.” Then I realized he was wearing orange, and I, green!

We had arrived at a time in between musicians, but there were a handful of vendors around, so we investigated. There were a few handcrafts (jewelry, soap) and some Irish and British products for sale, and some food.

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At a welcome booth we were given a program and a sticker. I keep all my travel stamps and stickers inside the back covers of my sketchbooks.

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The next performance began promptly as scheduled.

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The performer turned out to be a young woman playing the keyboard and singing Irish songs. She was later accompanied by a male friend on a recorder. (Even if you can’t listen to sound at the moment, watch the first video from 0:20 or the second from 0:33 to see what the festival looked like.)

While they played and sang, I sketched the audience. Judging by their clothing, hair, and makeup, this is a pretty different crowd than the type I’m more accustomed to seeing. Many girls here seem to favor pale, frilly clothing and pink makeup, but our new friends don’t dress like that and neither did the festivalgoers. Here we saw less makeup, more hats, and more clothing and accessories in unusual silhouettes.

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Later we ran into our new friend, who greeted us exuberantly, expressing his hope we were having a good time. We assured him we were. I asked if it had been pretty busy all day, and he said, “Yes… tomorrow, I will sleep!”

When the sun went down, the mall was illuminated and the musicians kept on playing. Erik and I went in search of dinner.

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We came back after the meal and were just in time to catch the finale (a group called Samurai Celt Mine — yes, they opened with a didgeridoo). I thought it would just be music, but there was also dancing — at least, the festival volunteers tried to get people to dance (from about 6:05). (Around 5:00 is our friend who invited us.)

It’s fun seeing cross-cultural events around the world: the Muhtadi Drumming Festival and Desifest in Toronto, and Scottish-style dancing in Reykjavík during Menningarnótt, come to mind. I won’t make facile comments about how great it is that cultures can mix; I’m perfectly aware of the painful histories behind the bánh xèo we ate in Paris or the artifacts we saw in the British Museum, and the problematic potential when anyone encounters other cultures. But where there’s tension, there’s also space for new things — which is what I find personally, too, as we travel.

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