March 02′ Yokohama & Toyko
A JAPANESE “WELCOME” FOR LORRAINE O’REILLY
A year ago “The Spirit of the Gael” Anthem (EMI records) written by Pete St. John of “The Fields of Athenry” fame, was adopted by the FAI as the anthem for the Irish Team for the World Cup 2002. Having performed the song live at the Lansdowne Road stadium on a number of occasions, watch the Irish Team play (with bated breath) at every home game, little did I realise then, that I would actually travel to Japan and perform the song and meet so many wonderful people. I arrived in Japan for the St. Patrick’s weekend of festivities 2002.
The welcome I received was unbelievable. The Japanese people are absolutely amazing, very gracious hosts having a fantastic sense of humour, just like the Irish themselves! Japan is an extremely hi-tech country on one hand but holds on tightly to its traditions, history and culture. Music and song play an integral part of Japanese life and the Japanese are very eager to learn anything about Ireland especially coming up to the World Cup.
My first port of call – so to speak, was Yokohama which is one of the major shipping ports in Japan, a major city with a population of approximately 4 million people and the host stadium for the Saudi Arabia/Ireland final match on 11th June. The stadium is something to behold, with a capacity of 85,000 people. I had the privilege of touring the stadium and meeting with members of the stadium’s PR team, where I presented them with a memento CD of the Anthem. The “Welcome Ireland” Yokohama committee run by Hideki Mimura (who can actually speak Irish, and took on the role of interpreter and guide) laid on a ” welcome” night, where I performed the song and in turn, they performed the famous Japanese “Dragon Dance”. It was here that I first met members of the INJ, (Irish Network Japan). There are only 1,000 Irish people living in Japan so the Network has more Japanese than Irish members. The INJ, headed up by Derek Fitzgerald, are the hardworking people who organise many events during the year and are responsible for putting together the St. Patrick’s day parade in Tokyo which has run for 11 consecutive years.
I had the honour of performing a couple of songs at the residence of Irish Ambassador Padraig Murphy, in Tokyo the evening before the parade and was accompanied by a wonderful Japanese couple the Moriyasu’s, who call themselves Paddy and Bridget! They play traditional Irish music and recorded their last two albums in County Clare. The St. Patrick’s Day parade itself was very special. Together with the Irish, American and Australian Ambassadors, we were presented with fragrant bouquets of flowers by Japanese children in traditional Japanese costume. To be thousands of miles away from Ireland, and be amongst so many Japanese and Irish people wearing green, performing Irish Dancing and Traditional Irish music will be a lasting memory.
My journey then took me to Chiba, where the Irish Base camp will be. Again, the generosity and kindness of the Japanese people continued, I was given a tour of the famous Innuma Honke Brewery which makes 16 kinds of Sake, the owner of the Brewery Mr. Innuma, is a member of the Chiba Irish Support Group Committee. That evening, I performed the “Spirit of the Gael” at a venue called “Opah” which is part of the brand new complex in Maharaku. The place was decked out in Irish flags, served Guinness on draught and everyone had the words of the song printed out in front of them and joined in on the chorus with me, wonderful ! A television crew from NHK filmed the evening and it went out on the breakfast news the next day. I returned to Ireland the following day with a bag full of memories and mementoes from all the new friends and fans I had made in Japan.
I was only home a week, when I received an invitation to return to Japan and Officially launch the Chiba Support Group at the Otani Hotel in Maharaku. Over 200 guests arrived including the Assistant Mayor of Chiba, 2 television crews, newspapers and RTE’s Niall McKay. I was overwhelmed at the response to the song and actually managed to learn and sing it in Japanese! Many members of the Chiba Chamber of Commerce together with the Chiba Support group and INJ members are working tirelessly to make Chiba a memorable place for the Irish visitor. I have picked up a couple of Japanese phrases along the way, but it was necessary to have an interpreter translate the story line of each song I performed for those guests in the audience who could not speak English. The Following day, Mr. Yoichi Sekine together with my interpreter Kyoko Kaneko paid a visit to one of the oldest Shinto temples in Japan, it is 2,000 years old and surrounded by Cherry blossoms trees, an absolutely breathtaking sight. We also visited the Sawara district where you will find very old style Japanese houses and shops made from cedar wood. Many Film crews have used this area for authentic background locations for movies.
Although my trip was very short on this occasion, I couldn’t leave Japan without trying out a Sashimi “Raw Fish” restaurant or a real Japanese “Karaoke” room. My hosts sang many European and Japanese hit songs but the most memorable song was “Danny Boy” being sung by one of my Japanese hosts. I am now known in Japan as Lorraine san, Irelando, World Cup!