Linguist / Translator
Eileen Lynn Kato was a remarkable person, a renowned translator and authority on Japanese Poetry and Theatre plus Waka art with a vast knowledge of Old-Middle English, Old Irish, Medieval French and Classical Japanese. In the history of Japan-Ireland 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 March 23rd 1932 at the family home in Bangor Erris, Co. Mayo. Her father was Jimmy Lynn a master craftsman from Briska, her mother was Mary (nee Tracy from Co. Galway, the principle of Glencullen National School.) She had one brother Paddy. Her mother died on August 6th 1951, her father on August 1st 1962. She never lost her love of Irish culture plus 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 also the Ursuline Convent Sligo. [ii] Eileen Kato graduated from University College Galway in 1953 with 1st Class Honours in French and Spanish. A brilliant student she was awarded many scholarships during her Academic career. During 1954 she received an M.A. at the University of Poitiers prior to studying 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 W.W.2 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 died suddenly during 1991. She continued with her studies also she acted in all his documental affairs plus 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 many scholarly articles on Irish and Japanese Literature in The Monumeta Nipponic plus the Journal of Irish Studies and Journal of Irish Studies. Eileen Kato wrote an authoritative article on her favourite Irish Poet Yeats and the Noh Theatre. [vii] During April 2002 she wrote “The Heart Remembers Home” in 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 plus 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 for fifteen years 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 Mr. Peter A. Mc Mullen at the Irish Embassy in Tokyo. She mentored the project also wrote the afterword. [ix]
She died aged seventy-six on August 31st 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? [xii]
[i] O’Reilly, Terry. (2012) Amazing Mayo Stories, Yew Plain Publishing, Ballina.
[ii] O’Reilly, Terry. (2012) Amazing Mayo Stories, Yew Plain Publishing, Ballina.
[vi] O’Reilly, Terry. (2012) Amazing Mayo Stories, Yew Plain Publishing, Ballina.
[xi] O’Reilly, Terry. (2012) Amazing Mayo Stories, Yew Plain Publishing, Ballina.
[xii] O’Reilly, Terry. (2012) Amazing Mayo Stories, Yew Plain Publishing, Ballina.