Lafcadio Hearn (1850
), an American journalist
extraction, was one of the first to write in English
Hearn was first sent to Japan in 1890 to report on the culture for Harper's magazine. That summer he took a job in the town of Matsue teaching middle school English. Although he originally intended a short visit, he fell in love with Japanese culture and ended up staying in Matsue for the 15 months, marrying the daughter of a local former samurai family and becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen.
For the next three years Hearn taught English at another school in Kumamoto, Kyushu, and then worked as a reporter for the English-language Kobe Chronicle.
In 1896, he accepted a teaching position in English literature at Tokyo (Imperial) University.
Hearn became especially enamored of Japanese folktales and lore. He wrote his first book on Japanes Culture, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894), to record the tales he heard from his wife and other acquaintances. Over the next decade Hearn wandered all over Japan collecting stories and learning about local traditions, writing several more books including Out of the East (1895), Kokoro (1896), Gleanings in Buddha Fields (1897), Exotics and Retropectives (1898), In Ghostly Japan (1899), Shadowings (1900), and Kwaidan (1904). Hearn died young of a sudden heart attack in 1905.
Hearn remains a giant figure in the study of Japanese folklore and retains a fond place in the memories of the Japanese, who came to consider him as almost one of their own. Many tales discovered by Hearn have since passed from the disappearing oral tradition and are now known only thanks to his recording them. Although Hearn's views of Japan were often colored by his idealistic and even simplistic views of Japan's "rustic" past, his writings remain a valuable resource on turn-of-the-century Japanese culture.