Lafcadio Hearn led an exotic life: born of an Anglo-Irish military doctor and a Greek woman, sent to Dublin as a child, educated in France and England, shipped off as a young person to America, living in poverty in Cincinnati, working as a journalist in the West Indies and New Orleans, and eventually settling in Japan, he was a master at romantic prose and was the author of penetrating books about Japan. While not very well known today, his work is still read and analyzed.
Hearn was born on Levkas, a Greek island in 1850. His father was an Irish officer-surgeon in the British army, his mother a Greek citizen. The child was brought to Dublin at the age of two. However, his parents divorced, and his father was re-assigned. A deeply religious great aunt took care of the boy and was determined to make him a practicing Catholic (she did not succeed). Hearn was sent to a boarding school in England where he sustained an eye injury. He would always be very self-conscious about his bulging eye, believing it made him ugly. Many of the photographs that survive are in profile or his eyes are closed. He was also nearsighted, so had trouble reading and seeing. Despite being shy and small, ( barely 5 feet tall) Hearn was determined and resourceful, so when he was sent to the United States without much money in his pocket and poor prospects, he took any job he could find , however menial. He settled in Cincinnati and after considerable struggle, found employment as a reporter, where he penned essays, poems and prose. He also translated the works of French writers such as Flaubert into English. His skill at writing lurid tales and stories was recognized and the papers he worked for increased their circulation. In 1877 Hearn went to New Orleans. He was supposed to write about local politics but instead wrote original sketches, stories and essays. He had wide interests. He wrote about religion, the Creole communities, even science. He had time to write "Chita" an adventure novel. For two years ( 1887-1889) he lived in the West Indies, writing for "Harper's Magazine". A book about the West Indies and a novel resulted from his time there.
In 1890, Hearn went to Japan for "Harper's." This assignment radically changed his life. He soon broke with "Harper's" and worked as a schoolteacher in northern Japan. He met Setsuko Koizumi, a young woman of noble Samurai rank. He married her in 1891. The union produced four children. In 1895 he took his wife's last name and became a Japanese citizen.
Hearn's most productive and happy years were from 1886 to 1903. He became a professor of English Literature at the Imperal University in Tokyo. He was proud of his wife and children. He wrote ghost stories from old Japanese tales and informative books about the people and culture of Japan. He was working on a series of lectures on Japan to be delivered at Cornell University when he died of a heart attack in 1904. He was given a Japanese funeral befitting a citizen of that country and is buried in Japan. To this day, the Japanese regard him as a beloved and understanding citizen of their country. His home in Japan is a museum, visited by many foreigners and Japanese every day. His books are widely read in Japan. A beautiful Japanese garden in his memory is in Ireland, valued as a calm retreat to the hussle and bussle of modern day life.