Linguist / Translator
Linguist / Translator
Eileen Lynn Kato was a remarkable person, a renowned translator and authority on Japanese poetry and theatre also Waka art with a vast knowledge of old-middle English, old Irish, medieval French also classical Japanese. In the history of Japanese-Irish relations the private dignified Eileen Kato is one of the most important people (not born a Japanese citizen) to have been honoured by the Emperor.
Eileen Lynn was born on 23rd March 1932 at the family home in Bangor Erris, Co. Mayo. Her father was Jimmy Lynn master craftsman from Briska, her mother was Mary (nee Tracy from Co. Galway principle of Glencullen National School) She had one brother. Her mother’s demise occurred on 6th August 1951, her father’s on 1st August 1962. (O‘Reilly)
Eileen Kato never lost her love of Irish culture spent many years exploring common elements with language and art at her adopted home in Japan. She reminisced how she walked barefoot to school, picked mountain flowers in ‘Lily Lake’ near the school or went to school by sidecar when she recalled her childhood in an article for the ‘Glencullen Centenary Magazine‘ 1887 to 1970. She loved poetry especially Yeats. She recalled the only naughty thing from her school years was when she abstained from school to attend his funeral! [i]
Following her initial education at Glencullen National School in Co. Mayo she studied for secondary level at the Ursuline Convent Sligo. [ii]
Eileen Kato graduated from University College Galway in 1953 with 1st Class Honours in French & Spanish. A brilliant student she was awarded several scholarships during her academic career. During 1954 she received an M.A. at the University of Poitiers. She continued to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. [iii]
Eileen Lynn met her future husband Yoshiya Kato (a Japanese Diplomat) at Poitiers in France. They were married in the mid-1950’s when they had to obtain permission from the Japanese Consulate Ministry as it was only the second time since WW2 that a diplomat in Japan married a foreigner. [iv]
When her husband was posted to the United Nations in New York during the 1960’s Eileen Kato completed a second M.A. at Columbia University. She studied Chinese while her husband was posted to Beijing (1980-1982) & Hong Kong. She studied hieroglyphics in Cairo Egypt (1984-1987) He was posted to Brussels from 1987 – 1990. [v]
Her husband Yoshiya Kato’s demise occurred suddenly during 1991. She continued with her studies whilst she acted in all his documental affairs. She cared for his elderly mother. [vi]
Her translations are included in several seminal collections; Twenty Plays of the Noh Theatre Twelve Plays of the Noh and Kyogenard and Traditional Japanese Theatre; An Anthology of Plays. She published several scholarly articles on Irish also Japanese literature in The Monumeta Nipponic also The Journal of Irish Studies. Eileen Kato penned an authoritative article on her favourite Irish poet Yeats & the Noh theatre. [vii]
During April 2002 Eileen Kato contributed The Heart Remembers Home to The Japan Foundation newsletter. [viii]
As Eileen Kato possessed a deep knowledge of Waka Art, she was the obvious candidate to translate into English the Waka of the Imperial Royal Family. Eileen Kato was appointed a Goyagakarilo (Special Advisor) by the Emperor of Japan, a position she held for fifteen years. Although by then she was a Japanese citizen she was the first person not born a Japanese citizen also the only woman to be appointed to the position in the Emperor’s private staff with her duties similar to that of an adviser. She held the role until her retirement during January 2007. One of the poems that made an impression on her during this time was Ki no Tomonor’s Collection Ogura Hyakunin Isshu translated as One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each. Her last project in June 2008 was to launch a book on Classical Waka by Irish scholar professor Peter A. Mc Mullen at the Irish Embassy in Tokyo. She mentored the project also wrote the afterword. [ix]
Aged seventy-six years Eileen Kato’s demise occurred on 31st August 2008. She is buried with her husband Yoshiya in Tokyo’s ancient Aoyama Cemetery. [x]
As a tribute the Emperor of Japan ordered a bowl of white roses placed by her portrait at Eileen Kato’s funeral, an honour reserved for people of outstanding merit. [xi]
Below is Mr. Mc Mullen’s Waka dedication to Eileen Kato’s memory.
Seagulls on the shore
wailing in the autumn squall,
are you crying for the one you love
that you had to leave behind?
Eileen Kato is referenced in an article by J. J. O’ Donoghue in The Japan Times on 16th March 2019 at this link: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2019/03/16/events/irish-eyes-smiling-japan/
Drunk as A Lord: Samurai Stories by Ryotaro Shiba was by translated by Eileen Kato. Tokyo: Kodansha International 2001 3,500 yen (cloth) An article by Margaret Stawowy is available to peruse in The Japan Times on 18th November 2001: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2001/11/18/books/book-reviews/a-story-that-just-doesnt-translate-2/
Edwin Mc Greal in Unsung Heroes in The Mayo News 7thJuly 2020 (pages 26 /2) referenced Eileen Kato with her extraordinary life & works. Several quotes from Professor MacMillan including ‘She was a very private person, the epitome of discretion,’ her reticent nature made her shun the limelight.’ ‘She spoke little of her achievements.’ He referenced Terry O’ Reilly’s article in Amazing Mayo Stories. Also referenced is The Irish Historian Professor L. M. Cullen’s article re Eileen Kato in The Irish Review.
[i] Amazing Mayo Stories 2012
[ii] Mayo Woman ( https://www.irishtimes.com/news/mayo-woman-who-became-a-member-of-the-emperor-s-staff-1.898043) [Assessed 7th July 2020]
[iii] Eileen Kato (https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2008/11/20/national/eileen-kato-special-adviser-to-emperor-waka-translator-dies-at-76/) [Assessed 7th July 2020]
[v] Mayo Woman (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/mayo-woman-who-became-a-member-of-the-emperor-s-staff-1.898043) [Assessed 7th July 2020]
[vi] Amazing Mayo Stories 2012
[vii] Mayo Woman (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/mayo-woman-who-became-a-member-of-the-emperor-s-staff-1.898043) [Assessed 7th July 2020]
[viii] The Japan Foundation ( https://www.worldcat.org/search?q=eileen+kato…the+heart+remembers+home&qt=owc_search) [Assessed 7th July 2020]
[ix] Mayo Woman (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/mayo-woman-who-became-a-member-of-the-emperor-s-staff-1.8980430 [Assessed 7th July 2020]
[x] Eileen Kato (https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2008/11/20/national/eileen-kato-special-adviser-to-emperor-waka-translator-dies-at-76/) [Assessed 7th July 2020]
[xi] Amazing Mayo Stories 2012