Steps taken by Tokyo man made his 'Riverdance' dream come true


SOME PEOPLE go to extreme lengths to pursue a dream, but Taka Hayashi went further than most. Nearly a decade ago, Taka came out of a Riverdance concert in Tokyo convinced he could tap the boards too.

He was a 28-year-old IT consultant who had never danced. But the concert had changed his life and nobody could convince him otherwise, not even his taxi driver dad who called him “mad”.

“I realised at that moment what I wanted from my life – to be a Riverdancer,” he says.

He quit his job – a momentous decision in a country where career breaks are almost unheard of – withdrew his savings of about $100,000, and flew to Ireland in November 2001.

Speaking almost no English, he ended up in Cork in search of a professor who “taught the history of Irish dancing”. Undeterred by the “difficult” local accent and racism (“kids threw stones at me and called me ‘Chinese’ ”), he hoofed his way around Irish dancing schools. All told him the same thing: he was too old.

The professor couldn’t help either, so Taka did what any sensible man in his position would do: he rented a flat in Cork and began practising in front of Riverdance videos – eight hours a day.

“I was sad to have been rejected but I had to keep going, because I had left everything, you know?” When he had mastered enough steps to not make a show of himself, he took to busking in the streets of Cork, where the Evening Echo newspaper wrote about the obsessed foreigner who had come thousands of miles to chase a dream.

Dublin-based choreographer Ronan McCormack offered him lessons. “From reading his description , I wasn’t expecting too much from him, to be honest, but I was amazed by how much he had learned just from watching videos,” says McCormack.

Nine months after arriving, Taka was finally off the starting blocks. He worked like a demon and was rewarded with a place in the Riverdance troupe of the 2003 Special Olympics World Games. The following year, he danced for Leinster in the world championships and won a scholarship to study for an MA in traditional Irish dance performance at the University of Limerick.

In 2005, he won the prize – a place on the Riverdance team when it toured the Far East. Taka’s impossible dream had taken five years to come true.

Today, he runs the busy Irish Dance Academy in Tokyo with his wife, Etsuko, who also dances. Both struggle to explain why they are so drawn to a culture thousands of miles away, but the music is key. Taka was immediately struck by the “similarities” of Irish and Japanese music. “The bodhrán and the taiko drums are very similar, as is the Irish flute and the shakuhachi. And I loved the synchronicity of the music and the tapping feet.”

This week, he and his wife and friends were performing on Grafton Street and at the Grand Canal Dock at their own expense. Nine years after a Riverdance concert changed his life, the performances are Taka’s way of bringing his achievement back home.

“I want to show Irish people my contribution to Irish dancing,” he says. “I hope they’ll appreciate it.”