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Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan



After the many quotes I’ve offered from Lafcadio Hearn’s classic I thought I’d wrap things up with a brief review of his two volume work, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.

If you have never been to Japan, this book will probably be of little interest to you. The intended audience was foreigners who had never been to Japan (indeed very few had when it was written in the 19th Century). I don’t see how they could have grasped much of the contents though.

The parts I enjoyed the most were for places that I have visited or for places which brought back memories of other places I have lived in Japan. Oddly enough, most of the places Hearn describes are not places foreign tourists visit. Kyoto and Tokyo, for instance, are barely mentioned. Much of the book deals with areas east of Himeji (where I have never been, yet)–especially Matsue and areas near it. So, for that reason, it wasn’t as interesting as it could have been had he dwelt mostly on regions more familiar to me.

The parts I enjoyed the most were his impressions. For instance, the chapter entitled something like, “My First Day In Japan” is fun for those who haven’t been to Japan to read as well as for those who can reminisce. What wasn’t as interesting, for me, was his relating of Japanese tales, especially ghost stories, superstitions, etc. Some were entertaining, but most weren’t to me. Apparently he wrote numerous books on that subject after this book. I have no interest in reading them.

It takes an imagination to fully appreciate Hearn. I enjoyed imagining him in pre-car, pre-train Japan riding in a rickshaw and rowing around the country. He laments Japan’s rapid changes at the time. I wonder what he would think if he could see it now?

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