The Matsue-bound train I boarded at Okayama Station was pointedly named Yakumo, a reference to its destination's best-known former resident: Greek-Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), whose adopted Japanese name was Yakumo Koizumi.

Although Hearn stayed in Matsue for only a year, he developed a great affection for this castle town and its surrounds, which — far removed from the changes taking place elsewhere — were ripe with tradition, time-embalmed customs, folklore and local superstitions.

It was the winter that eventually did him in. Writing to his friend, British Japanologist Basil Hall Chamberlain, he predicted, "I fear a few more winters of this kind will put me underground."