From the moment he was born on a Greek island to a Greek mother and an Irish father, Lafcadio Hearn (also known as Koizumi Yakumo) was marked out for a life pushed and pulled and often nearly swamped by the cross currents of many different cultures. The genius of the man was his ability to master the squalls and calms of many competing identities and traditions while writing essays, short stories and novels that added much to our common humanity.
Today he is best known for the work he wrote after he settled in Japan in 1890. In a series of articles, talks and books Lafcadio documented Japanese traditions and beliefs that were still extant even as Japan's rulers pursued a policy of opening the country up to western influences. His work included a collection of Japanese folktales Kwaidan, which H. P. Lovecraft praised as a book that ‘crystallises with matchless skill and delicacy the eerie lore and whispered legends of that richly colourful nation’.
In Japan Lafcadio is a household name and his Japanese folktales are studied by Japanese school children. Whilst there are occasional echoes of Irish folktales – in one tale a blind musician is taken to a magical realm that no one else can see – what strikes the reader is the contrast between Irish and Japanese traditions. In Irish (and Scottish) tales the Other World intrudes on this world causing mischief and even mortal danger. This intrusion is often defeated by proper religious observance, but can also be defeated by trickery and deception.
In Japanese tales the Other World does not intrude; it is enmeshed and engaged fully with this world. The magical can be as grotesque and menacing as anything in the Celtic tales, but it is an integral part of the complete world that we mortals live in. Religious observance plays an important part in most of these stories, but faith is not used to defeat magic. Instead priests negotiate between the magical and the profane to bring back balance between the two.
Lafcadio’s attraction for Japan’s dark and weird folk lore may be explained by his childhood upbringing in Ireland, where he was often left in the care of an elderly great-aunt from the west of Ireland who told him many of the strange and fantastic stories from that part of the world. He lived in Ireland from the age of two to thirteen and this October there will be a number of events celebrating Lafcadio’s Irish heritage.
The highlight of these celebration will be the
The Galway event takes place on the 13th October in The Nun’s Island Theatre. Before the main performance I will be telling one of the stories from my book Galway Bay Folk Tales. For times and prices see GAC Events.
For more see:
Embassy of Japan in Ireland: The Open Mind of Patrick Lafcadio Hearn
Lafcadio Hearn Gardens: The story of Lafcadio Hearn
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