Taoiseach out on his feet for sake of nation after a long flight
A five-hour delay did not stop Taoiseach Enda Kenny seeing the spiritual side of Japan
The Taoiseach accepts a ceremonial drink of sake during his visit to the Meiji shrine in Tokyo. Photograph: Marai
With the guiding hand of an old emperor making sure not a drop was spilled, the Shinto priest poured sake for the Taoiseach. Nothing like a swig of sake to counteract the jetlag . . .
It was the least Enda could expect – some divine intervention at the start of his trip to Japan.
His overnight flight had been delayed for five hours in Amsterdam, so he and his bleary-eyed entourage had to go straight from the airport to the Meiji shrine in central Tokyo. There wasn’t even time for a shower – never mind a change of clothes. It’s a long flight.
We dreaded the moment they would enter the Hall of Sacred Music and Dance and have to take off their shoes.
But with the help of the deities and the benefit of a business class passage, Ireland’s blushes were spared.
The Taoiseach does rumpled dignity well.
He refused the option to cancel his visit to the shrine, which is dedicated to the divine soul of Emperor Meiji, a reforming emperor who at the turn of the 19th century encouraged the old insular Japan to open up to the world. It was the reign of Enlightened Rule.
Was this the reason Enda chose to visit? Not quite, even if his Tánaiste was singing from the Enlightened Rule hymn sheet all weekend in Killarney.
The five-day schedule is packed with meetings, all designed with an eye to drumming up as much business as possible between Japan and Ireland. Yesterday’s stop at the shrine was the only bit of culture he’s going to get.
That’s unless he ends up in a sing-song tonight with US vice-president Joe Biden who is beginning an official visit here today and is booked into same hotel. Joe goes misty-eyed at the mere mention of his Irish roots. They have no official plans to meet, but we wouldn’t bet against a blasht of Moonlight in Mayo ringing around the rarefied confines of the Okura Hotel this evening.
And what with Northern Ireland’s Chuckle Brothers also in the city on a trade mission – Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are on a similar scouting mission with Invest NI – it will be like St Patrick’s Day on Capitol Hill, but without the corned beef and cabbage.
Speaking of which, Enda travelled along Omotesando Avenue – The Path to the Shrine – on his way to Meiji Jinju. This is the most fashionable and expensive shopping street in Tokyo and it’s closed for a day every year for the St Patrick’s Day parade, with Irish flags flying all the way down the avenue.
Maybe that’s why the curious Japanese worshippers who whipped out their camera phones to take Enda’s photograph seemed genuinely delighted when told he was the Prime Minister of Ireland.
The shrine is set in the centre of a large forest – the last thing you would expect to find slap bang in the middle of one of the world’s most populous cities. It has more than 100,000 trees and they look like they have been there forever, though the oldest are only 93 years old. They were planted individually by people from all over Japan in tribute to Emperor Meiji after his death.