Posts Tagged ‘ Lafcadio Hearn ’

Recommending Three Recently-Published Books.

This is a first for LetsJapan.Wordpress.Com  I have books, new books on Japan, to recommend (plus a “Bonus Book”).  They’re friends’ books, in fact, so besides the treat you’d be giving yourself, you’d be doing me a great favor by checking out what my friends have done.  Also, I have a personal connection with each book, even if that connection’s a little tangential.  I bet you will, too.  .  .

1.  Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage:  900 Miles to Enlightenment.


Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage:  900 Miles to Enlightenment, by Amy Chavez.

“I had always wanted to do the Shikoku Pilgrimage ever since I heard about it when I first came to Japan in 1994. There are, of course, many ways to do the journey. If you do it on foot, it takes 5-6 weeks to complete. By bicycle, you’ll need about 10 days. You can also visit the temples by bus or car. To cover all 88 temples, it will take at least a week, even by car. Most foreigners are interested in walking it. It’s a great physical challenge as well as an opportunity to feel the countryside and Japan’s ancient culture. You’ll miss a lot of that if you do the pilgrimage by car. . . .”  Amy Chavez, in this interview on  Femina Intrepida.

Personal:  I’ve not yet done the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku.  However, I’ve been to Mount Koya, where Kobo Daishi — founder of Shikoku’s temples (not all of them, but he started the whole shebang) — set up a vast, and mysterious, temple complex.  More than that, I’ve been many times, more than a dozen I estimate, to Kobo Daishi’s home temple, To-ji, in Kyoto.  At one of To-ji’s main building’s 88 scrolls — one for each of the Shikoku 88 — are unfurled around it, stones set in the ground below each scroll.  Any one can do a “Mini Pilgrimage” by going round the building, stepping from stone to stone, and making a reverent, sincere, bow before each scroll and offering-up a prayer.  Here’s a photo I took on May 21, 2008, of people doing just that:

1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008.

1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008. Link, reviews.


2.  The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn.


The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn

By (his wife), Setsuko Koizumi.  Edited & Illustrated by my friend, Hayato Tokugawa.

“There was no one who did more in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than Lafcadio Hearn to bring the inner thoughts and ideals of Japan, its religions, its superstitions, its art, its way of thought, all that animates its people, to the West. He lived in Meiji Era Japan and became one of its citizens, linking East and West, but received no public recognition, no decorations; yet, the world places a crown of laurel upon his head.Todai moto kurashi.”The foot of the beacon is dark.”In Reminiscences of Lafcadio Hearn, Setsuko Koizumi, Mrs. Hearn, has written wonderful, affectionate recollections of her life with Lafcadio Hearn in a book that is simply written, almost naive at times, sometimes funny yet at other times almost tragic, providing insights into herself, her family, and her husband and his wonderful writings on Old Japan.”  From The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn.

Personal:  LafCadio Hearn arrived in Japan in 1890 to begin a new life as a school teacher in Matsue, a town in Southern Japan situated on its western coast, on the Sea of Japan.  The first Hearn I read was a slim book of diaries.  I read it in 1990, 100 years after Hearn landed, not many months after I landed in Japan and began teaching in a Middle School, not too far from Matsue and Japan’s western coast.  I was amazed to find that much of what Hearn had written — impressions and insights about his students, the school system, his life as a teacher, etc. — were things that I could have written 100 years later. Link, reviews.


3.  Crossing on the Paris.

This one, Crossing on the Paris, is different.  It’s a historical novel.  It is not set in Japan, but rather, on the great (and very real) Trans-Atlantic Ship, The Paris, in 1921.  It was written by my friend Dana Gynther.  It’s her debut novel.  Dana and I have known each other since we were both undergrads at the University of Alabama in the early-to-mid 1980s.  Dana lives with her husband and two daughters (one whom I understand is simply nuts about Japan) in Valencia, Spain.  This book is a wonderful read and is No. 2 on’s “Downton Abbey Reading List.”


Crossing on the Paris, by Dana Gynther.

Being confined to a relatively small space—an ocean liner is an enormous boat, but a boat nonetheless—for almost a week does open a door to many possibilities. While doing research, I found that most people who made crossings back then claimed that time passed differently on board, that days felt like weeks. In this short time span, it was not uncommon for life-long friendships to form, for deep, dark secrets to be revealed to other travelers, for near-strangers to get engaged. In this book, all three women are travelling alone; reaching out to others is part of our very human willingness—or desire—to make friends, to share, to feel connected.  Dana Gynther, in this interview.

Personal:  I mention my personal connection with Dana at the beginning of this section.  Beyond that, Dana and I correspond occasionally, reminiscing about days gone by in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dana giving me sage writer’s advice as I complete a first-draft manuscript on my Japan adventures over the years, and so on.  Moreover, I’m just honored and humbled to know such an incredible writer, one who can put the reader into the scene, into the moment. Link, Reviews.

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Things that go “Bump” in Japan: Happy Halloween ハピ ハロウイン!

Kodai-ji Temple Goblin Lanterns. August 2011. Kyoto.

— H A L L O W E E N    2 0 1 3 — 

I originally posted this   “Things That Go ‘Bump'” piece 2009.  I’ve updated it over the years.  Let’s start it off with a vid of incredible, haunting, Steven Rollinson photos of mannequin scarecrows from Gifu Prefecture.  The angst and ennui expressed by these mannequins is a thing to behold — 

h/t to wonderful site/blog, Pink Tentacle, for bringing this to my attention.



October 2012 Kansai Scene – Magazine for the International Community

Kansai Scene — October 2012 Edition


Kodai-ji Goblin Lanterns. Detail. August 2011.

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WiFi for Smartphones Poster Detail. Tokyo. August 2011.

In October 1990 I was living in a small mountain town in Hyogo Prefecture.  I write about this town in the stories “Etsuko” and “Enlightenment”, whose links you can find at the top of this page.  I was a middle school teacher.  Come the season of red and gold, it occurred to me that in the spirit of cultural outreach I should find a pumpkin and carve a Jack-o-Lantern for and with the students.

My Japanese counterpart teachers (of English) liked the idea and a big pumpkin was found and brought into the school without much trouble.  A few days before Halloween, in a corner of one of the school hallways, I carved it in stages throughout the school day as students gathered around, amazed.  Several of them helped me scoop-out the insides of Jack’s skull.  Others handed me tools, acting as my nurses in the operating room.  Good times.  When, towards the end of the day, the job was done and the candle was lit and placed just so in Jack’s now-empty skull, I gave a signal and the lights were extinguished in the hall.  Gasps and giggles rippled up and down the flock of students nearby.  They had never seen such a thing.

While that wasn’t that long ago, it was long ago enough: Halloween — with its origins dating back well more than a millenium with the Celts of Northern France and the British Isles, brought to America in fits and starts during the 1700s, popularized by Irish immigrants during the latter half of the 19th Century, and supremely commercialized in the States after WWII — is now a Japanese holiday, in the strictly commercial, kitschy sense.


Happy Halloween in Japanese:   ハピ ハロウイン



"The Ghost of Koheiji".  Woodblock print.  Hokusai.  1830.

“The Ghost of Koheiji”. Woodblock print. Hokusai. 1830.

But ghosts and goblins and the creepy stories surrounding them have their own long tradition in Japan (as is the case in every culture).  Celebrated Edo Period wood block artist Hokusai (1760-1849) created a series of Kabuki-inspired “ghost story” prints around 1830, “Hyaku Monogatari”.  Above you see the print, “The Ghost of Koheiji”, based on an 1803 story-turned-kabuki-play by Santo Kyoden (poet, writer and woodblock artist).  Koheiji was betrayed and murdered by his wife.  So, naturally, he comes back from the dead to torment her and her lover by slipping under the mosquito netting around their bedding and joining and doling out horrific justice on them.   Below is famous, The Ghost of O-Iwa, a woman murdered by her husband who came back in phantasmic form to haunt and exactly bloody vengeance on her loathsome husband.

The Ghost of O-Iwa.  On the lantern is the Buddhist prayer, "Praise to Amitabha Buddha"

The Ghost of O-Iwa. Lantern writing’s the Buddhist prayer, “Praise to Amida Buddha”


Going back a good 1,000 years into early Japanese Buddhist tradition are the tormented “Hungry Ghosts”, or “gaki“.   Gaki are the spirits of those whose lives were consumed with avarice, greed and narcissism (today’s “social climbers”), while leaving their humanity on the back burner (or no burner at all) — you get the picture.  Seems in the afterlife such people will be assigned to wander through —  but never visible to  —  the living world, all disgusting with their distended bellies, wracked with hunger and able to eat only the bowel movements of those in the corporeal world.  They are all around us today, in fact.  Quite the disgusting ghost story and morality tale, all rolled into one and very reminiscent to me of Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, where in death the Rich Man begs Abraham, “‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things and Lazarus in like manner received like manner of evil things; but now he is comforted and you are in anguish. . . .’” (Luke 16:24, 25).

"Gaki", or Hungry Ghosts.  Late 12th Century.

“Gaki”, or Hungry Ghosts (detail from scroll). Late 12th Century.

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Hearn’s “In Ghostly Japan

After decades of bouncing from job to job and occasionally living in poverty, Lafcadio Hearn arrived in Japan from the U.S. in 1890 and began teaching English in a Middle School in Matsue  —  a town not far from the one in which I lived and taught Middle School English… exactly 100 years after Hearn.  And he fell in love with Japan.  Hearn became one of the first Western “Windows on Japan” and Japanese culture through his books and essays on every day life, Japan’s educational system (which is not too different a 120 years later) and, yes, Ghost Stories he collected over his years living in Japan.   Note:   one of the world’s largest Hearn collections is located in the Rare Books section of the University of Alabama.

Happy Halloween.

= March 2010 Video Update.  It’s inexcusable that I could have left THIS off the original post =

Ultraman was actually one of my first introductions to Japan.  In the late ’60s and early ’70s it aired every weekday afternoon on UHF Channel 20 in the Washington, D.C. Metro area where I grew up.  I was, indeed, a fan.

~      ~      ~      ~      ~


And then there’s the King of the Monsters, for Japan and elsewhere, whom I had the privilege of sitting down with and interviewing a few of summers ago.