Lafcadio Hearn Museum, Kumamoto
Lafcadio Hearn's Former Residence & Museum 小泉八雲
by Jake Davies
Lafcadio Hearn, the Greek-Irish writer who was one of the first westerners to write about Japan and its culture in the late 19th century and who is still read widely today, is most commonly associated with Matsue, a small city in Shimane Prefecture.
It was in Matsue that he first settled in Japan in 1890, and it was in Matsue where he met and married his Japanese wife, Koizumo Setsu, whose name he would take when he became a Japanese citizen and changed his name to Koizumi Yakumo.
Izumo, the province that is now the eastern part of Shimane, the area surrounding Matsue, was also the setting of Hearn's first book on Japan, one of his most popular publication, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.
However Hearn actually spent very little time in Matsue, just a year and a half. After his teaching contract expired he and his wife moved to Kumamoto.
Through his friend and mentor Basil Chamberlain he was offered a job teaching at the Fifth Higher Middle School (later to become Kumamoto University) by the Principal, Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo.
At first Hearn was not enamored of Kumamoto, as it lacked the charm of Matsue, though the warmer climate suited his Mediterranean genes. Eventually he took to the place and in 1894 wrote:
"The future of greatness of Japan will depend on the preservation of that Kyushu or Kumamoto spirit, the love of what is plain and good and simple, and the hatred of useless luxury and extravagance in life."
It was in Kumamoto that he wrote Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, and where his first son, Kazuo, was born. At the end of his three year teaching contract he moved to Kobe.
The house Hearn lived in in Kumamoto has been restored and opened as a museum. At the time, most Western residents of Japan lived in western-style houses specially constructed for them, like the Jayne’s residence near Suizenji Garden, and though he had not yet taken the step of becoming a Japanese citizen, Hearn chose a traditional Japanese house.
Worth noticing is the kamidana, the traditional household shrine he asked to have made and installed. Most of the exhibits and displays in the house have English explanations, and the curator speaks a little English.
The house is located right behind the Tsuruya Department Store, a few minutes walk from the Suidocho Tram stop.
Hours: Open from 9.30am to 4.30pm. Closed on Mondays, or the following day if Monday is a National Holiday, and over the New Year.
Admission is 200 yen for adults.
2-6 Ansei-machi, Kumamoto, 860-0801
Tel: 096 354 7842
Books by Lafcadio Hearn
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); Kottō: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs (1902); Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903); Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation (1904); The Romance of the Milky Way and other studies and stories (1905); published posthumously.