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Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan

“The first charm of Japan is intangible and volatile as a perfume.”

Those words were written by Lafcadio Hearn, one of the first westerners to be considered a true Japanophile. Hearn was born in Greece, to an Irish father and a Greek mother, moved to Ireland at the age of two and to the United States at the age of nineteen where he lived in Cinicinati and New Orleans and established himself as a writer. He spent some time in the West Indies before being sent to Japan in 1890 as a newspaper correspondent. He never returned and ultimately married, took Japanese citizenship, and the name Koizumi Yakumo before he died in 1904. In his gook Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, originally published by Berhard Taushnitz in 1907, and reprinted in many times since, he expresses his views of life in Japan. I find that these sentiments are as true today as when he wrote the preface, more than 100 years ago, in 1894.

“But the rare charm of Japanese life, so different from that of all other lands, is not to be found in its Europeanised circles. It is to be found among the great common people, who represent in Japan, as in all countries, the national virtues, and who still cling to their delightful old customs, their picturesque dresses, their Buddhist images, their household shrines, their beautiful and touching worship of ancestors. This is the life of which a foreign observer can never weary, if fortunate and sympathetic enough to enter into it–the life that forces him sometimes to doubt whether the course of our boasted Western progress is really in the direction of moral development. Each day, while the years pass, there will be revealed to him some strange and unsuspected beauty in it. Like other life, it has its darker side; yet even this is brightness compared with the darker side of Western existence. It has its foibles, its follies, its vices, its cruelties; yet the more one sees of it, the more one marvels at its extraordinary goodness, its miraculous patience, its never-failing courtesy, its simplicity of heart, its intuitive charity.”

Read more about Hearn and the foreigners who have followed in his footsteps the the Japan Times article “Foreigners flourish in the realm of Japanese arts” and be sure to read all of the other submissions to the Japan Blog Matsuri that will be published in a special edition of Nihon on the Net on August 24th.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia, Lafcadio Hearn