The Original Japanese Travel Writer

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), was the son of an Irish Army Doctor and a Greek Women and was first and foremost a writer. After attending school in Ireland, he moved to America where he wrote in Cincinnati and New Orleans for various newspapers.

Hearn became increasingly dissatisfied with materialistic life in the west and so planned to move to Japan. However, an opportunity came in 1890 when he was commissioned to write a travel article in Japan. Upon arriving in Yokohama, Hearn instantly quit his contract and moved to Matsue in Shimane Prefecture to become a teacher. In Matsue he met and later married Koizumi Setsu, a daughter from a Samurai family.

Later, Hearn changed his own name to Koizumi Yakumo, a name taken from an Japanese myth. Hearn was the original travel writer on Japan, writing and collecting stories up until his death in 1904. Living in Japan in what many would call a golden era for Japan when akon Yosai・ the bringing together of Japanese spirit and Western Technology, was at the forefront of Government thinking after the Meiji restoration, Hearn luckily provides us with an image of Japan that is no longer present.

In famous works such as Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan(1894), Out of the East(1895), In Ghostly Japan(1899), Kwaidan(1904) and Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation(1904) Hearn looks and analyses the minutiae of Japanese life, and delves into the depths of the ghost in the Japanese psyche.

For myself, Kwaidan- literally Horror Stories is the best gift he left us. The book is an excellent translation and collection of ghost stories, and has been made into a brilliant film by the director Masaki Kobayashi (1964). If you are studying Japanese or are interested in Japan, Hearn must be read. I will say no more and let Hearn do the rest with two poems.


Yamadera no
Taki no oto

(In the mountain-temple the paper mosquito – curtain is lighted by the dawn: sound Of waterfall


Yuki no mura;
Niwatori nait

(Snow-village; -cocks crowing; – white dawn)


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