TVT Lafcadio Hearn Project: Readings with Music



Fiscal Year:2023


Composers:Akemi Naito, John McLachlan, Yugi Itoh, Paul Hayes

Performance:Tenri Cultural Institute

Date:22 September 2023

Performers:Satoko Inoue, piano, John McLachlan, narrator

The Village Trip Presents
with Nothing But Music & Marsyas Productions

Lafcadio Hearn Project: Readings with Music
Four ghost stories for speaker and pianist

Friday, September 22, 2023 at 8 PM
Tenri Cultural Institute, 43A West 13th Street, New York, United States


Akemi Naito: Ubazakura (2017)
Yuji Itoh: The Reconciliation (2017)
John McLachlan: Fragment (after Lafcadio Hearn) (2016)
Paul Hayes: The Second Heaven of Desire in Old Tramore (2017)

Satoko Inoue, piano
John McLachlan, narration

What is the Lafcadio Hearn Project?

In 2017 Yuji Itoh and Satoko Inoue devised a partnership between Japan and Ireland focused on the writings of Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo) 1850-1904 as part of “60th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Japan and Ireland. Hearn was Irish originally but became a citizen of Japan where he married a Japanese woman, Setsu Koizumi, and became famous for publishing books on Japan and on Japanese folklore. Before moving to Japan, he traveled the world and emigrated to the United States where he worked as a journalist, first in Cincinnati and later in New Orleans from 1872 to 1875. In Japan, He gathered, among other things, ghost stories, which were published in his volume, Kwaidan. Two composers from Japan and two from Ireland came together on the project, each choosing a story to be read by a speaker or actor and setting it to original piano music. The words are thus woven into the rhythm and pacing of the piano part into a musical whole. One of the four composers in Akemi Naito, who lives in the West Village

The project had been performed in tour performance in Tokyo and Matsue following Letterkenny, Dublin and Waterford in 2017. This concert will be an American premiere.

Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn in 1889, Copyright © by Koizumi Family

小泉八雲・Koizumi Yakumo (Lafcadio Hearn) was an Irish writer who later became a naturalised Japanese citizen and wrote many books about Japan.

Lafcadio Hearn was born on the Greek island of Lefkas (Lefkada) in 1850. His father was Charles, an Irish army doctor stationed there, and his mother was Rosa, a Greek woman from the island.

At the time, Greece was considered a backward country and it was not advisable for an Irishman to marry a Greek. When Lafcadio’s father Charles returned to Dublin from his post in the West Indies, Rosa and Lafcadio were already in Ireland with relatives. Family disharmony ultimately led to Rosa then returning to Greece, and Charles marrying another woman, while Lafcadio was left alone in Ireland with Charles’s relatives.

Having lost his mother and father, he seems to have been angry with his father and longing for his mother. He was placed in the care of his great-aunt Sarah Brenane who gave him a strict Catholic education. (He lost his left eye in an accident when he was 16.) However, Henry Molyneux, who had become Sarah’s financial manager, became bankrupt, so Lafcadio was then sent to relatives in Cincinnati, Ohio. (1869, age 19). There he appears to have lived in extreme poverty. But by 1874 (age 24), He was a reputed reporter for a daily newspaper and life began to move on. However, the following year he lost his job due to the scandal of marrying a mixed-race woman, which was illegal at the time.

He was an energetic and popular journalist, but he also branched out into all kinds of writing and translation work; this career led him to many places: in 1877 to New Orleans where he wrote extensively on Creole culture; and in 1887 to the Martinique in the West Indies, where he worked for Harper’s and wrote fiction. In 1890 (age 40) he took an assignment to travel to Japan.

Entranced by Japanese language and culture, he remained in Japan, becoming first an English teacher at Matsue Junior High School and Teacher’s school in Shimane Prefecture. He then married Setsuko Koizumi and transferred to the High School in Kumamoto in 1891. He became a reporter for the Kobe Chronicle in 1893 and took Japanese citizenship in 1896 (aged 46), changing his name to 小泉八雲(Koizumi Yakumo). He lectured at Tokyo Imperial University from 1896 but was abruptly dismissed in 1903 and replaced by the writer Natsume Soseki. Hearn died in 1904.

(Chronology here is mainly based on ‘Yokai/Fairy Tales’, translated by Masayuki Ikeda, Chikuma Bunko).

Hearn and his wife Setsu Koizumi at Kumamoto, Copyright © Koizumi Family

From the Organizer Yuji Itoh

The fact that Hearn began collecting Creole language in Louisiana and Martinique in French West Indies in the late 1800s shows how unique and ahead of his time his purview was among Europeans. (Incidentally, Hearn also published a book on Creole cookery!). For example, compare when other writing on the subject appears: the Négritude movement of Aimé Césaire and others dates back to the 1930s, while Martinique writer Patrick Chamoiseau and others wrote ‘Éloge de la Créolite’ in 1989.

In terms of his idiosyncrasies, the same applies to the ghost stories ‘Kwaidan’ featured in this project. The book is a collection of old Japanese ghost stories, but it is not just a collection of documents and interviews; he had his wife Setsu tell them to him at night - apparently angry when she was not telling them seriously - and he listened deeply to the stories and her voice as he wrote them down. What was it that he was there trying so hard listening to and writing down?

Alternatively, in a kind of travelogue, ‘Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan’, he encounters the Bon Odori - a traditional outdoor dance once a year during the period when the ancestral spirits return (Bon), and describes it so dreamily and beautifully that even I, a Japanese, am moved to read it, and ask myself what it was that he saw.

In his childhood, in a reality that reads like a colonialist novel by Pierre Loti, he lost his mother and his father, his nationality and ethnic identity were unclear, he lost one eye in an accident, but he received a higher education, experienced poverty, moved around the world, picked up Creole language that was considered a crude language in that time, married a Japanese woman in a Far Eastern island country, became naturalized Japanese and deeply entered a traditional Japanese culture that was being lost.

What could he see and what did he hope to gain from his existence as ‘Lafcadio Hearn/Koizumi Yakumo’ which he reached via the hardships of so many losses? I always read his books, and especially in this case the ghost stories ‘Kwaidan’, with this question in mind.