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Lafcadio Hearn Museum, Matsue City

The incredible imaginative legacy of one Irishman

Have you read Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan? ​What about Kwaidan? If you have, then you are already aware of the rich tapestry of folklore and tradition that underlies Matsue's slick streets and modern buildings, not to mention the ghosts that lurk among its bridges and byways. If not, prepare for a Japan you've never seen before!

Lafacadio Hearn was a remarkable traveler and writer and the Memorial Museum is an introduction not just to the man but to his work. Determined to find a side of Japan not yet chronicled by Western writers, Hearn set out in 1890 for Matsue. He only lived in the city for a single year but in that time he amassed a collection of knowledge and experience that would become the foundations for his most famous book, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan​ is that book, a collection of essays that Hearn wrote detailing anything from his garden to his first impressions of Japan, a traditional celebration of Obon to a privileged reception by the head priest of Izumo Taisha. Not only of interest to the modern day traveler, Hearn's works detail a Japan that even most Japanese people can't imagine. The Kwaidan​, in particular, a collection of ghost stories associated with the Shimane region, is valued by Japanese scholars as a valuable record of now forgotten tradition.

The museum is small, but houses a remarkable collection of memorabilia, from letters written by Hearn to furniture from his house. Where possible, exhibits are displayed alongside relevant excerpts from Hearn's works. Even if you've never read his books, the exhibits allow you a glimpse into Matsue's Unfamiliar -- and sometimes spooky -- past. Explanations of most of the exhibits exist in English and Hearn's works are available in English and Japanese from the reception desk.

The museum also houses a small temporary exhibition room which houses a display connected to Hearn or his works in some way. When I last visited, the exhibit was a collection of photos that aimed to recreate Hearn's Unfamiliar Japan visually, with photos, materials and explanations tied to major sites associated with Hearn's most famous work. Titled 'A Journey to Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan', the exhibit comes in two parts. The first part, 'The Chief City of the Province of the Gods' is open until September 30th 2012, while the second, 'Traveling Hearn' will be open from October 5th until March 24th, 2013. The museum should be visited in tandem with Hearn's residence, conveniently located right next door.

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Find out more about Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum.

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Avery Morrow 6 years ago
It's really cool that his museum looks like a traditional Japanese building, the kind he would have loved, instead of a Western building.

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