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Japan Bagpipers To March in N.Y.

March 16, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Only one bagpipe band in the nation’s oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade is coming from abroad, and it’s not from Ireland.

It’s from Japan.

``There’s a samurai spirit in the bagpipe. It’s very evocative, invigorating, uplifting _ especially the marching tunes,″ said Japanese consul general Seiichiro Otsuka, who will be playing in the Tokyo Pipe Band on Wednesday.

``I don’t know if we’ll be drinking miso soup or Irish whisky Wednesday morning,″ he added with a laugh. ``We’ll need a lot of energy. It’s 40 blocks!″

Thirty of the band’s 50 men and women will be dancing, drumming and piping during the 238th year of New York’s St. Patrick’s festivities, held on Fifth Avenue. It is the first Japanese group to march in the parade.

The band was formed in 1975 for Queen Elizabeth ll’s visit to Tokyo. Since then, growing in size and talent, it has performed in France, Hong Kong and Jakarta and won prizes at international competitions. Many band members have trained in Scotland and elsewhere.

Otsuka, who was Japan’s first consul general in Edinburgh, Scotland, said the first time he heard a bagpipe, the beauty of the sound brought him to tears.

``One autumn afternoon I was walking around Edinburgh castle. The sun was setting. There was a lone piper on top of the Edinburgh castle wall playing `Amazing Grace.′ The music brought tears to my eyes,″ he said.

There’s nothing Japanese about the group’s costumes, which are traditional kilts in a Royal Stuart plaid.

``It felt funny the first time, but it gets more comfortable. When I tell my colleagues I wear a kilt, many people are interested in trying it on,″ said Atsushi Yamane.

In addition to traditional Irish and Scottish tunes, the band will be playing ``Sukiyaki,″ ``Mount Fuji″ and ``Koi Nobori,″ all Japanese songs.

John Fitzsimons, a parade organizer, said having the Japanese pipers was ``a real honor for the Irish community.″

There are a few Western faces in the group. Sandy Tryk, of Cleveland, a physics professor at the University of Tokyo and the band’s only American, said Wednesday’s parade would be something different.

``We play in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Tokyo, but it’s really small,″ he said. ``There are five Irish pubs in Tokyo, though _ more than in Cleveland, I’m sure.″

Yamane studied at an intensive piping program in California.

``Of course, we are not Celtic, but the sound is so very brave and huge and real to us. Japanese traditional music is all quiet,″ he said. ``The bagpipe feels very powerful.″

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