Samurai Taiko whirlwind blew on St. Patrick's Day - EU・ジャパンフェスト日本委員会

Samurai Taiko whirlwind blew on St. Patrick’s Day

Nobuko Ijichi|Director, Experience Japan Taiko Team

The Corona Pandemic, which had thrown also the world of art and performance into chaos, has finally come to an end, and here in Ireland, all kinds of events are taking place in various locations, and the country is full of active energy. Our “Taiko x Ireland” project was originally scheduled to take part in the European Capital of Culture Galway 2020, but we were tossed about by the Corona Pandemic。But finally, we were brought to our final destination in March 2023, three years later than planned, with a performance on the main stage of the national festival in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s Day is a special day for everyone connected with Ireland to celebrate the birth of the country’s patron saint. The whole country turns green, the symbolic colour of Ireland, and celebratory parades and events take place everywhere. The largest of these is the St. Patrick’s Festival (SPF) held in the capital city of Dublin. On the day of the festival, the city of Dublin turns in a festive mood. In 2019 before the Corona Pandemic, the festival attracted about 450,000 people. And this year in 2023 when the festival took place without any restrictions, it was reported that the number of visitors was close to 500,000. A huge outdoor special stage was also set up in addition to the parade through the centre of town. The venue was at Collins Barracks, a historic Dublin building built in 1702. This historic space, once used as a military facility and now a national museum, was the stage for our taiko performance.

Samurai Music Zi-Pang performing with EJ Taiko at the St Patrick’s Festival in Collins Barracks ©︎Experience Japan Festival 2023

The day of St Patrick’s Day and the following day’s performance was unfortunately cloudy and drizzly, so we were preparing and waiting for our turn, anxious that the audience flow might not be directed towards the stage. However, when an invited artists from Japan, Samurai Music ZI-PANG leader Hiroyuki Hayashida and members Luke Takahashi and Yoshiki Watanabe appeared on stage, the black clouds over Dublin suddenly moved out of sight and the sky cleared. In no time at all, a crowd formed in front of the giant stage. The Samurai Taiko whirlwind then swept out, taking the nearly thousands of green colour spectators into a whirlwind of excitement.

The local young members of Experience Japan Taiko Team based in Dublin and Samurai Music ZI-PANG also performed all together in a large, powerful taiko ensemble. The sound and groove of taiko was perfect for the national festival on St Patrick’s Day. The performance and the audience came together to create the perfect festive atmosphere for St Patrick’s Day. The performance was a big hit not only with the audience, but also with the festival staff, food court workers and volunteers, and we received many saying, “Please be back next year,” and “We’ll be waiting for you”.

Prior to the St Patrick’s Day special stage performance, we toured high schools across Ireland together with Samurai Music ZI-PANG led by Hiroyuki Hayashida. It was a school performance called “Wadaiko Experience”, for introducing Japanese language and culture. Since the 1980s, interest in Japan and the Japanese language has been particularly strong among young people in Western Europe due to the spread of manga, anime, games and other forms of entertainment.  And Ireland has actually the highest rate in Europe in terms of Japanese language learners per 100,000 population and is unique in the world in its approach to Japanese language education. Under the Irish Government’s language policy ‘Languages Connect’, Japanese is now taught as a regular language subject in over 30 high schools across the country. Ireland also has a unique study year in the secondary school curriculum called Transition Year (TY). This is a year in the 4thgrade (during 6 years of secondary education) in which students have the opportunity to broaden their learning experiences and personal development in a variety of social, academic, sporting and artistic areas. In this TY, students can take a short-term course in which they can study Japanese language and culture. Including students in these short-term courses, more than 5,000 high school students a year experience and learn Japanese language and culture. “Wadaiko Experience” visited 11 high schools in Ireland (Targeting approximately 800 students), which had a particularly high level of enthusiasm for Japan. At the opening in all the visiting schools, the buzzing noise turned into a breathtaking silence for a moment when the sound of Mr. Hayashida’s Oke-daiko echoed through the air, and then the students were instantly drawn into the powerful taiko performance. When the first piece came to an end, a loud cheer erupted and the excitement of the high school students was waving all the way over us. The session to experience Wadaiko drumming performance together with Mr. Hayashida was also very popular, and everyone had a lot of excitement and a great time. The impact of the profound sound of taiko and the performance of a professional performer with samurai spirit is enormous. We are confident that we were able to convey to Irish high school students the wonder and excitement that bubbling up from experiencing the authentic first-hand.

Waidaiko Experience workshop for High School students with Samurai Music Zi-Pang in Wexford ©︎ Experience Japan Festival 2023

If this school performance, “Wadaiko Experience”, can be held annually in the future, it has the potential to play a major role in connecting the younger generation with Japan and taiko. We would like to explore ways to tie in with the TY Programme with the aim of holding this event on a regular basis. The school performances we had this time was also the first ever experiential cultural project held in another language in the history of the TY Programme. This will give a significant impact on future endeavours in various parts of the Irish educational project.

In a series of projects, we at Experience Japan have aimed to connect with the people of Ireland through music through taiko. We believe that this is not only a cultural exchange, but also contributes to deepening the relationship between Japan and Ireland from various angles such as local community, education, international mutual exchange and the promotion of Japanese culture. This time, on the big stage of the national festival on St Patrick’s Day, we had the opportunity to introduce taiko to many Irish people, and to make them fans of taiko. This made us a big step forward for the next chapter of “Taiko x Ireland”.

We all involved members would like to express our deepest gratitude to the EU-Japan Fest Japan Committee for its flexible response to the situation and consistent support for this project, even in the face of the difficulties caused by the Corona Pandemic.