The Japan Times
Friday, September 25, 1998


Letter points to Hearn's estrangement with Japan

LONDON (Kyodo) A letter written in 1903 by Lafcadio Hearn, perhaps the world's most famous Japanophile, expressing bitterness over his treatment in his adopted country a year before he died, has been found in London, a Japanese scholar said Wednesday.
The letter, addressed to a close friend, shows Hearn weary of seeking to understand and be understood in a foreign land, an image far removed from that of the traveling journalist and prolific novelist who loved Japan so much that he became a citizen of the country.
The eight-page missive, dated April 28, 1903, was sent from Hearn's home in Tokyo's Nishi-Okubo district to Arthur Diosy in London. It was discovered by Ikuo Tsunematsu, a Japanese expert on Anglo-Japanese cultural history, who found it among a sheaf of old documents kept by Diosy's relatives.
Tsunematsu, who also serves as curator of the Soseki Museum in London, said the letter creates "doubts (about) whether Yakumo, who is said to be partial toward Japan, really loved Japan." He added that Hearn, who died of heart failure 94 years ago this month, seemed to have had trouble bridging the gap between East and West in his later years.
Born in 1850 of Irish-Greek parentage, Hearn arrived in Japan in 1890 and quickly fell in love with the country and its people by virtue of a teaching stint in the provincial town of Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, where he married the daughter of a local samurai.
Taking the name Yakumo Koizumi upon assuming citizenship in 1896, Hearn produced several works, including, "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan" and "Out of the East," which portrayed in time-capsule fashion to the West the romantic and mystical traditions of a rapidly modernizing Japan.
In 1903, however, due to an argument that filled him with disappointment, Hearn quit an English literature post he had held since 1896 at Tokyo Imperial University, he wrote Diosy.
"The reason alleged was that being a Japanese citizen, I had no right to the equivalent of a foreign salary," Hearn wrote. "My students, and a portion of the Japanese press, having protested, I was offered a re-engagement at impossible terms."
Hearn also complained about the reception his writings received from Japanese.
"Perhaps you do not know that most of my books were written under great disadvantage. I did the best I could, almost alone, and the result has been well-spoken of by European men of letters. But in Japan, all this has been studiously ignored," he wrote.
Known for his thorough immersion into Japanese culture, ironically, Hearn wrote: "I have long been a subject of persecution in Japan. For many years, I have been isolated -- unable to meet or to have other friends, other than Japanese.
"The matter appears to have been managed by a small clique of English officials, with the aid of the religious bodies," he wrote.
Toki Koizumi, Hearn's 74 year-old grandson, said Hearn "became incensed about having been made to quit from Tokyo Imperial University through the mere dispatch of one notice of dismissal." He also seemed dissatisfied about not having been allowed regular holidays, Koizumi added.
Regarding the religious bodies, Koizumi said: "Although he was nominally a Christian, he was in essence a rationalist through and through. He hated and criticized church corruption. Such being the case, I heard there were times he was treated as a heretic by religious groups and some British people living in Japan."
Tsunematsu said the letter to Diosy, whom Hearn described as being "on the side of Light, not Darkness," showed the Englishman to be one of the few friends to whom he could open his heart.
In contrast to Hearn, Diosy became celebrated as a Japanese expert a few years after first arriving in Japan in 1899. He founded the Japan Society of London in 1891.