Mr Kato Retires

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Many ODs will remember their Keio Yochisha Exchange and Mr Kato, organiser of the programme since its launch in 1995. This year, Mr Kato, announced his retirement, and we contacted ODs and Golden Oldies to share their memories and photos of past exchanges.

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Having visited England and the Dragon previously to learn more about English schooling in order to help influence the Japanese education practice, Mr Mitsuaki Kato was inspired. He worked with Roger Trafford, Headmaster of the Dragon at the time, to set up the Keio Yochisha Exchange in 1995.

Roger and Cheryl Trafford first met Mr Kato when he was part of the group of seven or eight visitors from the whole of Keio who were visiting British schools in the Autumn of 1994. They came to the Dragon from Eton and included representatives from their Elementary school (Yochisha – the second Elementary School in Yokohama had not yet been founded), Junior Highs (Chutobu), Senior Highs and the University. The leader was Professor Oda, who became Headmaster of Chutobu, joined by Mrs Shoko, the interpreter, Mr Nakagawa, Headmaster of Yochisha, and Mr Kato. Both Mr Nakagawa and Mr Kato went from students to teachers at Yochisha. They all got on very well, and Roger and Cheryl were invited to visit Tokyo the following year.

The next link was the Kato family spending a month to six weeks at the Dragon in 1996 when they stayed in one of the four staff flats in what is now known as Stringers. Mr Kato was the first visitor from Keio to stay with his wife and children, Eiko and Yoko. He enjoyed his visit to the Dragon so much that both his daughters Eiko and Yoko joined the Dragon for one year. Eiko now lives and works in Oxford.

“I remember Etsuko Kato and her daughters being in floods of tears when they left! Next year, 1997-8, Eiko became the first Japanese pupil of the Dragon when she joined for a year, followed by her sister Yoko. Over the next few years, while the groups of children came over with staff in April and Dragons went to Yochisha in October, a number of Yochisha staff came over for a month or more and stayed in the Flat.” Roger Trafford, Former Headmaster

The month-long trips, known as ‘long stays’ had begun. Dragon staff were invited as a guest of Keio, and Keio staff were invited as a guest to the Dragon. The first member of staff from the Dragon to go for a long stay was Mary Kinnear.

“I was lucky enough to have been on the first cultural exchange visit to Keio accompanied by 12 Dragons. I then went on the first ‘long stay’ visit alone to Keio in 1996. My class was covered at the Dragon, and I spent a month in Japan, hosted by Mr Kato visiting Keio Elementary and other schools. I was given a flat near Keio University, and it certainly was a cultural exchange!” Mary Kinnear, Current Staff

Mr Kato more recently helped initiate the new Dragon and Keio long-stay programme for young Dragons. In September 2020, we welcomed our first-ever year-long Keio pupil placements, sadly interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Young Dragons have enjoyed an exchange trip every year since the launch of the program, the most recent in 2019, with the 2020 trip unfortunately postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Dragon staff involved with the programme since its launch in 1995 include Roger Trafford, Paul Baker, Mary Kinnear, Dougal Philps, Chris Caunt (and husband John), Nick Attwood, Peter Norton, Chris Scott, Hugo McNeile, Tim Knapp and Jack Viner.

“He is an incredibly friendly man with a genuine love and respect of all things Dragon, rivalled only by his penchant for Adidas clothing. He also does a mean Frank Sinatra impression.” Tim Knapp, Director of QUEST

Following their exchange, several Dragons were invited to return to the family they first met as part of the exchange, with some staying for a year. Mr Kato ensured exchanges were always full of fun, and as a result of their experience, many Dragons have gone on to learn Japanese, with a number having gone to work in Japan. He is a great teacher and organiser, and although he hasn’t been running the exchange for a few years now, with Ken Kokubo taking the lead, he was pivotal in starting the programme.

Mr Kato is retiring from teaching at Keio Yochisha; however, he will be returning to write a book about the history of their school. This year’s exchange is set to take place, as planned, in October, and the Dragon looks forward to hosting the Keio visit in January, postponed from May.

“Without [Mitsuaki Kato], the exchange would probably not have started and certainly would not have continued. He may appear quiet and retiring but he has a lovely sense of humour and a splendid laugh.”  Roger Trafford, Former Headmaster