Reading about Japan I came across an author that had Greek roots like myself and shared the same fascination with Japan that I did. His name was Patrick Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn was born on the Ionian island of Lefkada. His mother was a Greek woman named Rosa Cassimatis from a prominent Greek family of the island of Cythera. She fell in love with a British Army surgeon of Irish Protestant stock named Charles Hearn and became pregnant. As a result, he was stabbed by Rosa's brother to avenge the family honor, nearly dying, but was nursed back to health by Rosa herself. Hearn's parents were married in a Greek Orthodox ceremony and Lafacadio was baptized. Eventually at the age of 2, Hearn and his mother moved to Dublin however the marriage failed, and his parents divorced. Rosa remarried and Lafcadio was raised by an aunt. At the age 0f 19 he moved to America where he lived for twenty years working as a journalist until he took a position as a correspondent in Japan.
Hearn arrived in Japan in 1890 and quickly fell in love with the country and its people by virtue of a teaching stint in the provincial town of Matsue, Shimane Prefecture,where he married the daughter of a local samurai. Taking the name Yakumo Koizumi upon assuming citizenship in 1896, Hearn produced several works, including, "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan" and "Out of the East," which portrayed in time-capsule fashion to the West the romantic and mystical traditions of a rapidly modernizing Japan. In 1903, however, due to an argument that filled him with disappointment, Hearn quit an English literature post he had held since 1896 at Tokyo Imperial University. He felt persecuted by the European community in Japan: "I did the best I could, almost alone, and the result has been well-spoken of by European men of Japanese culture, Hearn lamented, "I have long been a subject of persecution in Japan. For many years, I have been isolated -- unable to meet or to have other friends, other than Japanese."
His biographer, Roger Pulvers writes of Hearn: He came to Japan at a time when virtually all foreigners were there to instruct, pontificate and lord themselves over the Oriental upstart; yet he himself came solely to learn, to discover what his temperament had taught him was beautiful and potent in the human spirit. Fresh off the ship in 1890, he wrote of the Japanese to his friend, Elizabeth Bisland, "I believe that their art is as far in advance of our art as old Greek art was superior to that of the earliest European art. We are barbarians! I do not merely think these things: I am as sure of them as of death. I only wish I could be reincarnated in some little Japanese baby, so that I could see and feel the world as beautifully as a Japanese brain does." It was hard for Japanese to resist such blatant adoration, focused as it was on their sheer uniqueness.
The following are extracts from a book written by Hearn in 104, entitled "Impressions of Japan" (full texts of some oh his books are available here):
My own first impressions of Japan,--Japan as seen in the white sunshine of a perfect spring day,--had doubtless much in common with the average of such experiences. I remember especially the wonder and the delight of the vision. The wonder and the delight have never passed away: they are often revived for me even now, by some chance happening, after fourteen years of sojourn. But the reason of these feelings was difficult to learn,--or at least to guess; for I cannot yet claim to know much about Japan .... Long ago the best and dearest Japanese friend I ever had said to me, a little before his death:"When you find, in four or five years more, that you cannot understand the Japanese at all, then you will begin to know something about them."
Some of us, at least, have often wished that it were possible to live for a season in the beautiful vanished world of Greek culture. Inspired by our first acquaintance with the charm of Greek art and thought, this wish comes to us even before we are capable of imagining the true conditions of the antique civilization. If the wish could be realized, we should certainly find it impossible to accommodate ourselves to those conditions,--not so much because of the difficulty of learning the environment, as because of the much greater difficulty of feeling just as people used to feel some thirty centuries ago. In spite of all that has been done for Greek studies since the Renaissance, we are still unable to understand many aspects of the old Greek life: no modern mind can really feel, for example, those sentiments and emotions to which the great tragedy of Oedipus made appeal. Nevertheless we are much in advance of our forefathers of the eighteenth century, as regards the knowledge of Greek civilization. In the time of the French revolution, it was thought possible to reestablish in France the conditions of a Greek republic, and to educate children according to the system of Sparta. To-day we are well aware that no mind developed by modern civilization could find happiness under any of those socialistic despotisms which existed in all the cities of the ancient world before the Roman conquest. We could no more mingle with the old Greek life, if it were resurrected for us,--no more become a part of it,--than we could change our mental identities. But how much would we not give for the delight of beholding it,--for the joy of attending one festival in Corinth, or of witnessing the Pan-Hellenic games? ... And yet, to witness the revival of some perished Greek civilization,--to walk about the very Crotona of Pythagoras,--to wander through the Syracuse of Theocritus,--were not any more of a privilege than is the opportunity actually afforded us to study Japanese life. Indeed, from the evolutional point of view, it were less of a privilege,--since Japan offers us the living spectacle of conditions older, and psychologically much farther away from us,than those of any Greek period with which art and literature have made us closely acquainted.
Pulvers writes: He created an illusion and lived his days and nights within its confines. That illusion was his Japan. He found in Japan the ideal coupling of the cerebral and the sensual, mingled and indistinguishable, the one constantly recharging the other and affording him the inspiration to write. It was hard for the Japanese to resist such blatant adoration, focused as it was on their sheer uniqueness. One hundred and fifty years have passed since the birth of Patrick Lafcadio Hearn. This orphan of Europe — transported at age 19 to the United States and later, aged nearly 40, to Japan — found in this country what he had been seeking everywhere: a sanctuary for his imagination. In the decades following his death in Tokyo in 1904, the Japanese crowned him with their ultimate laurel; he became their "gaijin" laureate, the single greatest interpreter, in their eyes, of their inmost cultural secrets.