Northern Ireland

Fleadh cheoil: From Tokyo to County Clare

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Media captionThe band received a standing ovation after playing at the Fleadh cheoil on Sunday

Traditional Irish music is special to people all over the world - so perhaps it should come as no surprise to see a group of young Japanese musicians performing at a traditional Irish music festival in County Clare.

But, as Kozo Toyota explained, he still gets bombarded with questions when he visits Ireland to play with his band from Tokyo.

Mr Toyota and his band were among those performing and competing at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in Ennis, County Clare, on Sunday.

The event is the biggest festival of Irish music and culture in the world, and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

Image copyright kozo Toyota
Image caption Mr Toyota is a professional Irish music teacher and performer from Tokyo

Thousands compete in music competitions and Mr Toyota's group was among those taking part last weekend in Ennis. They received a warm welcome and managed to make it to the finals of one competition.

"We received a standing ovation at the end of our performance and it filled us with deep emotion," said the music teacher, who is travelling back to Tokyo on Tuesday.

'Surprised'

Mr Toyota, who has no connection to the island of Ireland other than a love for the music, discovered his passion while studying the subject at university.

Image copyright Kozo Toyota
Image caption Toyota Céilí performed at the Fleadh in Ennis, County Clare on Sunday

"People here welcome me and my band with open arms and are very warm and kind, but it is clear they are wondering why we became Irish musicians," he told BBC News NI.

"They assume that Japanese people would have no interest in Irish music, and they are surprised when they hear us playing the songs well."

Mr Toyota mainly plays the flute and makes a living from teaching and performing the music at home in Japan.

He founded Toyota Céilí in 2011 and they became the first band to host regular céilí events in Japan.

Image copyright Kozo Toyota
Image caption Mr Toyota said there was an increasing demand for traditional Irish music and dancing in Japan

Mr Toyota said traditional Irish music and dancing were becoming increasingly popular in Japan and the band welcome more than 100 people to some of their events throughout the year.

"I love to play music that people can dance along to," said Mr Toyota.

"When I was studying music at university, and I began my journey with Irish music, I was intrigued to learn that many Irish families played the music together - now my mother, father and younger brother accompany me often.

"There is definitely an increased interest in Irish dancing and music in Japan and it has become very popular with young people, especially students."

Speaking ahead of the Fleadh, Anne Barrington, the Irish ambassador in Japan, said the enthusiasm of Japanese players of Irish music knew "no bounds".

"It is humbling to see the dedication and passion with which this great tradition of ours is pursued here in Japan," she said.

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