Goblins, Cats, and Lost Dumplings: Lafcadio Hearn's Japanese Fairy Tales

The Irish-Greek-American-Japanese travel writer, novelist, and journalist Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) brought Japanese and other "exotic" traditions to Western readers through his essays, novels, folklore collections, travel accounts, and translations. An eccentric and colorful figure, Hearn was born in the Ionian Islands and educated in Ireland, England, and France. He settled in the United States in 1869, writing for newspapers in Cincinnati and New Orleans, then moved to Martinique. Writings from this period include a collection of oriental legends and stories, Stray Leaves from Strange Literature; the novels Chita: A Memory of Last Island and Youma: The Story of a West-Indian Slave; and the travelogue Two Years in the French West Indies. Hearn traveled to Japan in 1890, where he married, naturalized (taking his wife's surname, Koizumi, and the given name Yakumo), and lived out his life. He introduced English-language literature to Japanese university students while writing voluminously for Western readers on the culture, customs, and character of his adopted country in such representative works as Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, Kokoro, and Japan: An Attempt at an Interpretation. Hearn's translations of classic Japanese fairy tales were issued by the Tokyo publisher T. Hasegawa in five beautiful little books between 1898 and 1922 (the final volume appeared posthumously), printed on crepe paper and illustrated with hand-colored woodcuts. These translations are actually the Second Series of nifty little folktales published by Hasegawa; the earlier series included twenty volumes, translated by various other people, and all just as gorgeous as Hearn's Japanese Fairy Tales.

Lafcadio Hearn. Japanese Fairy Tales. Philadelphia: Macrae-Smith, ca. 1926. Portfolio of five separate works originally published by T. Hasegawa & Son in Tokyo between 1898 and 1922.
The New York Public Library, General Research Division.

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