Up to 30,000 attend Tokyo St Patrick’s Day parade

Irish dancers and setters (one dressed as Michael Jackson) entertain crowds in Japan

An estimated 30,000 people watched Asia'slargest St Patrick's Day parade snake through central Tokyo in glorious sunshine on Sunday afternoon.

The city’sOmotesando shopping district was draped in tricolor flags for the day and a cast of floats, Irish dancers, wolfhounds, Irish setters (one dressed as Michael Jackson), and leprechauns entertained the crowds.

A marching band from a local US army base played the music and an energetic team of Samurai warriors, dressed in green, practiced sword fighting for the hour-long event.

The parade was led this year by Ireland's Ambassador to Japan Anne Barrington, and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, who is touring Japan and South Korea.

“I’mblown away by the scale and enthusiasm of the parade,”Mr Howlin told The Irish Times. ”I didn’t expect to see so many Irish people in Tokyo.”

The parade's grand marshal was Norimasa Nishida, the founder of hotel chain Toyoko Inn, which recently bought the Abbeville estate in Kinsealy which was formerly owned by the late taoiseach Charlie Haughey.

In nearby Yoyogi Park, a “I Love Ireland” festival of food and drink served cottage pie, fish and chips, and yes - green beer - as Irish entertainers, including folk music act Beoga, entertained from the stage.

The festival, in its second year, drew thousands of people. Last year it ran out of food after the organisers underestimated its popularity, said Gerard Mulligan, president of the Irish Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

“We learn by our mistakes,” he laughed. Mr Mulligan said the festival will keep growing. “It’s all about building bridges and brand awareness and getting people to know our culture.”

Japan is home to over 1,000 Irish people and is Ireland's 11th largest trading partner. Prime minister Shinzo Abe visited Ireland in mid-2013 and Taoiseach Enda Kenny reciprocated with a visit to Tokyo later that year.

Japanese people at the festival say they learned about Ireland through football and music, though some seemed confused. One man said he had seen photos and knew Ireland had a lot of volcanoes, apparently confusing it with Iceland.

Watching the parade from the sidelines, Ryota Oikawa (7), said he wanted to visit the country some day. “When I think of Ireland I imagine a lot of sheep,” he said. “I love sheep.”