Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Greek who became a national poet in Japan

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), known also by the Japanese name Koizumi Yakumo, was an international writer, known best for his books about Japan. His novel, "The fountain of youth" will become a 3D animated film. His life could well become a Hollywood movie. When his father got transferred from the British army at the Ionian islands for the West Indies, Lafcadio (who was then six) and his mother moved to Dublin to live with his fathers family. His mother, however, did not like living there, thus she and her sons moved to one of her aunties. Lafcadio's father took advantage of a law of his country, under which marriages between British and non-British citizens were not recognised when done abroad, that is why he divorced her.  Rosa Kassimatis returned to Greece alone. She never saw her kids again. The father remarried and left for India, leaving the children back in England. 

Lafcadio discovered a book on ancient Greek culture whilst at school which interested him enormously. He continued his studies in France, Ivens College and the Catholic College of St. Cuthbert. There he even lost one of his eyes whilst playing. Since then he shut him self off. At age 19 he immigrated to the U.S. For a time he lived under conditions of extreme poverty. When he met publisher Henry Watkin he was in a very bad condition. He offered him a job at a newspaper and later he acquired a higher position in Cincinnati Daily Enquirer. In 1877 he moved to New Orleans for a series of articles and remained there for 10 years, translating foreign literature. 
Having enough of the Western way of life and traditions he moved to Yokohama, Japan in 1889.   There he was a correspondent of "Harper's Magazine". In Japan he spent the rest of his life (nearly 14 years). He embraced Buddhism, married, became a Japanese national and changed his name to Koizumi Yakumo. In December 1896 the Imperial University of Tokyo offered him the office of Professor of English Language and Literature. His articles and books described life in Japan in a unique way, which was regarded as the most interesting approach of Japanese society by a European author. In later years some critics accused Hearn for exoticizing Japan, but as the man who offered the West some of its first descriptions of pre-industrial and Meiji Era Japan, his work has historical value.   

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