Lafcadio Hearn’s great-grandson working to boost number of foreign visitors to Matsue museum

Kyodo

An improved English service offered by the great-grandson of Lafcadio Hearn, who wrote numerous books about Japan in the late 19th century, has helped to boost the number of foreign visitors to a museum in western Japan dedicated to the author.

Since the 2016 renovation of the museum in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Bon Koizumi, 57, has added detailed English captions for all displayed objects, including a desk, manuscripts and a suitcase used by Hearn (1850-1904), who became a naturalized Japanese at the age of 45 and was known as Yakumo Koizumi.

The number of foreign visitors to the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum more than doubled to 2,749 in fiscal 2017, which ended in March, from 1,144 in fiscal 2015, when it was closed for three months for renewal.

Bon, who has been working for the museum since 1989 as a curator and adviser and became its chief in 2016, cooperated with a British translator in Matsue to update the English service.

Born to an Irish father and Greek mother in 1850 on Lefkada, an island in western Greece, Hearn arrived in Japan in 1890 when he was nearly 40 and soon gained a teaching position in Matsue, where he met his future wife, Setsu Koizumi, during his 15-month stay there. The couple tied the knot in 1896.

Hearn helped introduce Japanese traditions and culture to Western nations through such literary works as “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan” (1894), “Kwaidan” (1904), a collection of old Japanese ghost stories, and “Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation” (1904).

Bradley Walters, an 18-year-old American university student who visited the museum, said he was able to understand the exhibits easily with the English translations, while Richard Dudley, 71, who came with his family from the United States, said he did not know about Hearn but was intrigued to learn about his life.

To promote local tourism, Bon has also planned a “ghost tour” in Matsue, in which storytellers take participants to sites depicted in “Kwaidan.” Participants in the event were mostly local residents when it began in 2008, but Japanese and foreign tourists now account for about 70 percent of those joining the tour.

Inspired by the phrase “open mind,” which was used in the title of a modern art exhibition featuring Hearn in Greece in 2009, Bon said he thought “Yakumo’s open mind toward foreign cultures is needed at the present time.

“I especially want the younger generations to see the world without prejudice,” said Bon, who is exploring new event ideas in a bid to attract even more visitors to the museum from Japan and abroad.