I’ve already mentioned him several entries already, as Lafcadio Hearn is a pretty famous person around here. A century ago he was pretty famous around the world for his writings about Japan–especially the San’in region, as he was first placed in Matsue as an English teacher back in the Meiji era, when Japan was beginning to Westernize. He was an Irish man born in Greece who studied and worked in Europe and the United States, but ultimately found his home in Japan. If you’re familiar with the 1964 film Kwaidan, then you’re already familiar with some of his work.
While he lived here in the chief city in the Province of the Gods and took in the sights–many of which we still see regularly or nearby today–he collected the material for Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, which was written in 1894. It was the first of his sixteen books about Japan and what made him so well-known, though he had already been a world traveler and writer over the decades beforehand.
When I found out I was coming to Matsue, I made sure to read this book. Now I’ve been here for a while, when I flip back to it, I’m surprised just how vivid and accurate so many of his descriptions still are. To quote P.D. Parkers, one of his bibliographers:
There may be no other city like Matsue or Izumo that can be made so well known to those who have never been ….Surely there must be only a few places in the world that have travel guidebooks as complete as this.
Whether he was better known as a travel writer, folkologist, or anthropologist, his work is important as some of the most detailed accounts of Japan in a changing era. He went on to marry a woman from a local samurai family, become a university professor in Tokyo, and become a naturalized Japanese citizen under the name Koizumi Yakumo–as he is typically referred to within Japan. Biographers tend to agree that his days in Matsue were some of his happiest, and his home–a former samurai residence–and garden that he loved so much are still places you can visit. The Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum is right next door.
Besides his old home and sources of inspiration (and in turn, ghost tours and products inspired by Hearn’s writings), Matsue is also home to Prof. Bon Koizumi, his great-grandson. He and his wife are not only the local authorities on any Hearn-related, but they’re also active in Matsue’s Irish culture. I performed at an Irish music performance with them last fall, and will soon go celebrate St. Patricks Day at the Irish pub and parade coming up soon. Matsue’s Irish parade is one of the biggest in Japan!
Or you could download his books for free from Project Gutenberg, or directly on Amazon for Kindle users!