In Writings From Japan, Lafcadio Hearn shares his impressions of his few months spent here, including memories and impressions of his first day.
In 1853, Commodore Perry negotiated access for American ships to Japanese ports, and the country came out of its self-imposed isolation to open up to the West. Hearn arrived shortly afterwards in 1890, to a land still mysterious and mythical in all aspects of life.
Hearn’s writing reflects his wonder and his growing love and appreciation of Japan, her people and her culture. His lyrical style befits his mood, as if his days pass in a dream:
….the white fire of the Japanese sun is taking that pale amber tone which tells that the heat of the day is over. There is not a cloud in the blue – not even one of those beautiful white filamentary things, like ghosts of silken floss, which usually swim in this most ethereal of earthly skies even in the driest weather.
Hearn spent these first months travelling around Japan (largely by rickshaw, it would seem) not only marvelling at the country, but immersing himself in the culture. This is reflected in the chapter headings: At the Market of the Dead, In a Japanese Garden, Insect Musicians, The Chief City of the Province of the Gods. Much of what he writes may seem like a world now vanished, but it still exists in hidden parts of the country, often in full view.
Indeed, Hearn became so enamoured of the country he never left (he died in Tokyo in 1904), and his writings brought him international recognition. He is seen as one of the first Western writers to bring Japan to life for the Occidental reader, and his works are still taught in Japan. In 1936 a museum was built in Matsue next to the house where he once lived.
For me, Writings From Japan proved a timeless work about a fascinating country. It was a book I left by my bedside and dipped into between other readings; it was a work inspiring me to return to this amazing country, where the past and the present at times meld together, at time sit side by side, and others float in those seperate bubbles of wibbly-wobbly time-wimy bits
Always a reason to return (book in hand).