Trinity remembers eternal student 'Matt the Jap'

 

Gardaí are liaising with Interpol and the Japanese embassy to contact relatives of Matteo (Masahiso) Matubara, one of central Dublin's most familiar characters, following his death last month. Paul Cullenreports.

Matubara (73), known affectionately to generations of Trinity College students as "Matt the Jap", died of natural causes in his home off Mount Street almost two weeks ago. Gardaí broke into the flat after food which had been left at his door remained untouched for days.

His body remains in the morgue while efforts continue to make contact with his brother, who is believed to live in Tokyo. College friends are planning to hold a gathering in his honour next Thursday.

His passing was marked in the classified section of yesterday's Irish Times with this tribute from the college's Central Societies Committee: "Known to generations of Trinity College graduates and students as a 'college character', Matteo was a seemingly constant and eternal fixture at student events and meetings, and his passing conjures up a sentiment of not-quite-the-sameness."

Raised in Tokyo, he studied in Norway and Paris before coming to Ireland in the early 1980s. In Trinity, with financial assistance from Saudi Arabia, he wrote a thesis on Islamic journeys in the Middle Ages. After receiving an M Litt in 1987, he stayed on in Ireland, and appeared to live on very little.

He was extremely deaf and communicated with people by sign language or, more often, by exchange of written notes. He could write in English, Irish, Japanese, Norwegian, German, French, Russian and, it is reputed, several other languages.

He was an inveterate correspondent; Prince Charles, Prince Michael of Kent and Prince Albert of Monaco were among those who replied to his letters.

He was on the Christmas card lists of President Mary McAleese and Jacques Chirac.

"He knew half the crowned heads of Europe," recalls Joseph O'Gorman, assistant junior dean in Trinity. "There was even a photo of him with Tito.

"Matteo was the last of a number of eccentrics who pottered about college over the years and whose only real link to the place is the most important: they were known by generations of students for whom, in many ways, they formed a nostalgic link with their time in college. People who can't remember what they read for the whole of second year have a clear memory of Matteo."

Mystery surrounded his background, much of it encouraged by Matubara himself. He claimed not to have any family in Japan, until friends discovered he was sending cards to a brother in Tokyo. His library card was removed as he was found to have written on old textbooks, though friends claimed he was correcting typos.