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Culture : Japanese Parade for St. Patrick, Whoever He Was : Western holidays are all the rage. But a poor understanding of their meanings leads to faux pas, such as Santa on a crucifix.

March 16, 1993|TERESA WATANABE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Another loser was Seibu's effort to promote St. Patrick's Day a few years ago. It unilaterally renamed it "Green Day" and put out several green goods for sale. Stripped of all meaning, the idea bombed, and the store hasn't tried again.

Indeed, Seibu, like virtually every other store in Tokyo, sees March as the month of white, not green. March 14 was White Day in Tokyo, a holiday invented by the retail industry to get the guys who receive chocolates on Valentine's Day to reciprocate. Anything goes here--even white panties, as was the rage a few years ago--but Seibu's Sone said handkerchiefs were the top seller this year.

While Seibu was promoting White Day in its Shibuya store, its sister company, Wave Records, was promoting St. Patrick's Day in Roppongi district. The store featured a first-floor display of greenery, Irish musicians such as Phil Coulter and miniature samples of Bailey's Irish Cream.

The store began the Irish promotion this year in cooperation with the Irish Embassy, whose ambassador, James Sharkey, has been a tireless pitchman for his country. Last week, the embassy helped sponsor the first annual Emerald Ball, featuring a performance by Coulter and attended by the likes of the crown prince's younger brother and wife.

Coulter said there seemed to be a definite identity problem for the Irish in Japan.

"People know about Ireland because of the headlines about guerrilla activities," he said, "but it produces more than gunmen." His goal, along with Sharkey, is to use St. Patrick's Day as a chance to promote awareness of Ireland as a land of unspoiled natural beauty, of artists and writers, poets and playwrights--Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and William Butler Yeats.

To Japanese retailers, however, the biggest problem with promoting St. Patrick's Day is neither gunmen nor the color green.

"It's not a holiday geared for gift-giving," Sone of Seibu said. "So in Japan it probably won't take off."

Megumi Shimizu, Times researcher in the Tokyo bureau, contributed to this article.

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