Lafcadio Hearn

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (June 27, 1850 - September 26, 1904), also known as Koizumi Yakumo after gaining Japanese citizenship, was an author, best known for his books about Japan. He is especially well-known to the Japanese for his collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories, such as Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things.

Early life

Hearn was born in Lefkada (the origin of his middle name), one of the Greek Ionian Islands. He was the son of Surgeon-major Charles Hearn, of King's County, Ireland, and a local Greek woman, Rosa Antonia Kassimati of Kythera, Greece. Rosa Antonia Kassimati was born in Kythera, one of the Ionian Islands. His father was stationed in Lefkada during the English occupation of the Ionian Islands. Lafcadio was initially baptised Patricio Lefcadio Tessima Carlos Hearn, in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Lafcadio Hearn moved to Dublin, Ireland at the age of 6. Artistic and rather bohemian tastes were in Lafcadio Hearn's blood. His father's brother Richard was at one time a well-known member of the Barbizon set of artists, though he made no mark as a painter through his lack of energy. Young Hearn had rather a casual education, but was for a time (1865) at Ushaw Roman Catholic College, Durham. He was injured in a playground accident in his teens, and lost vision in his left eye.


The religious faith in which he was brought up was, however, soon lost and, at 19, he was sent to live in the United States of America where he settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. For a time, he lived in utter poverty, which may have contributed to his later paranoia and distrust of those around him. He eventually found a friend in the English printer, and communalist, Henry Watkin. With Watkin's help, Hearn picked up a living in the lower grades of newspaper work.

Through the strength of his talent as a writer, Hearn quickly advanced through the newspaper ranks and became a reporter for the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, working for the paper from 1872 to 1875. With creative freedom in one of Cincinnati's largest circulating newspapers he developed a reputation for sensitive, dark, and fascinating accounts of Cincinnati's disadvantaged. He continued to occupy himself with journalism and with out-of-the-way observation and reading, and meanwhile his erratic, romantic and rather morbid idiosyncrasies developed.

While in Cincinnati, he married Alethea ("Mattie") Foley, a black woman, an illegal practice at the time. When the scandal was discovered and publicized, he was fired from the Enquirer and went to work for the rival Cincinnati Commercial. But the smoke and pollution in Cincinnati bothered his sensitive eyes, so he left the city in 1877 for New Orleans, Louisiana.

He lived there between 1877 and 1888, writing for the Times Democrat newspaper. His writings about New Orleans focused on the city's Creole history, distinctive cuisine, underworld, and Voodoo. His writings for national publications like Harper's Weekly and Scribner's Magazine helped mold the popular image of New Orleans as a colorful place of decadence and hedonism. His best known book on Louisiana is Gombo Zhebes (1885).

The Times Democrat sent Hearn to the West Indies as a correspondent in 1889. He spent two years in the islands and produced Two Years in the French West Indies and Youma, The Story of a West-Indian Slave (both 1890).

Though this is not well-known, Hearn is known to some people as the major translator of short stories written by Guy de Maupassant. Another famous translator of Maupassant's short stories is Henry James.

Later life in Japan

In 1889 Lafcadio Hearn went to Japan with a commission as a newspaper correspondent, which was quickly broken off. It was in Japan, however, that Hearn found his home and his greatest inspiration. Through the goodwill of Basil Hall Chamberlain, Hearn gained a teaching position in the summer of 1890 at the Shimane Prefectural Common Middle School and Normal School in Matsue, a town in western Japan on the coast of the Sea of Japan. Most Japanese identify Hearn with Matsue, as it was here that his image of Japan was molded. Today, The Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum and Lafcadio Hearn's Old Residence are still two of Matsue's most popular tourist attractions. During his 15 month stay, Hearn married Setsu Koizumi, the daughter of a local samurai family, and became a naturalized Japanese, taking the name Koizumi Yakumo.

In late 1891, Hearn took another teaching position in Kumamoto, Kyushu, at the Fifth Higher Middle School, where he spent the next three years and completed his book Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894). In October of 1894 he secured a journalism position with the English-language Kobe Chronicle, and in 1896, with some assistance from Chamberlain, he began teaching English literature at Tokyo (Imperial) University, a post he held until 1903. On September 26, 1904, he died of heart failure at the age of 54.

In the late 19th century Japan was still largely unknown and exotic to the Western world. With the introduction of Japanese aesthetics, however, particularly at the Paris World's Fair in 1900, the West had an insatiable appetite for exotic Japan, and Hearn became known to the world through the depth, originality, sincerity and charm of his writings. In later years, some critics, including George Orwell, would accuse Hearn of transferred nationalism and exoticizing Japan, but as the man who offered the West some of its first glimpses into pre-industrial and Meiji Era Japan, his work still offers valuable insight today.


While Lafcadio Hearn is no longer well-known in the West, and is even falling out of common knowledge in Japan, he still has a small, fairly devoted fanbase, and his influence on Western knowledge of Japan (though most cannot put his name to it) cannot be denied.

Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi adapted four Hearn tales into his 1965 film, Kwaidan.

Several Hearn stories have been adapted by Ping Chong into his trademark puppet theatre, included the 1999 Kwaidan and the 2002 OBON: Tales of Moonlight and Rain.

His life and works were celebrated in The Dream of a Summer Day, a play that toured Ireland in the April and May of 2005, which was put on by the Storytellers Theatre Company and directed by Liam Halligan. It was a detailed dramatisation of Hearn's life, with four of his ghost stories woven in.

Yone Noguchi is quoted as saying about Hearn, "His Greek temperament and French culture became frost-bitten as a flower in the North."

Books written by Hearn on Japanese subjects

  • Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894)
  • Out of the East: Reveries and Studies in New Japan (1895)
  • Kokoro: Hints and Echoes of Japanese Inner Life (1896)
  • Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East (1897)
  • Exotics and Retrospectives (1898)
  • Japanese Fairy Tales (1898) and sequels
  • In Ghostly Japan (1899)
  • Shadowings (1900)
  • Japanese Lyrics (1900) - on haiku
  • A Japanese Miscellany (1901)
  • Kott: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs (1902)
  • Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903) (which was later made into the movie Kwaidan by Masaki Kobayashi)
  • Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation (1904; published just after his death)
  • The Romance of the Milky Way and other studies and stories (1905; published posthumously)
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
Further reading
  • Bisland, Elizabeth, The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn (2 vols., 1906)
  • Bronner, Milton, Editor, Letters from the Raven: Being the Correspondence of Lafcadio Hearn with Henry Watkin (1907)
  • Bronner, Simon J., editor. Lafcadio Hearn's America. (2002)
  • Cott, Jonathan, Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn (1991)
  • Gould, G. M., Concerning Lafcadio Hearn (1908)
  • Kennard, Nina H., Lafcadio Hearn; containing some letters from Lafcadio Hearn to his half-sister, Mrs. Atkinson (1912)
  • Noguchi, Yone, Lafcadio Hearn in Japan (1910)
  • Pulvers, Roger, Lafcadio Hearn: interpreter of two disparate worlds, Japan Times, January 19, 2000
  • Starr, S. Frederick, Editor, Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn (2001)

This biography was taken verbatim from the Wikipedia. We're providing a snapshot just in case the Wikipedia servers were temporarily unreacheable. The original page is not only much more up-to-date, it also features links to other pages and sites. This snapshot was last updated: 08/16/2006. (mm/dd/yyyy)

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