Something else at Archive.org: Reminiscences of Lafcadio Hearn, by his wife Koizumi Setsu (translated by Paul Kiyoshi Hisada and Frederick Jonhson). I don't suppose the fact that he really, really loved Japan will come as news to anyone reading this, but there is some interesting insight into his compositional process here and there. For example:

When I told him the old tales, I always first gave the plot roughly; and wherever he found an interesting place, he made a note of it. Then he would ask me to give the details, and often to repeat them. If I told him the story by reading it from a book, he would say, "There is no use of your reading it from the book. I prefer your own words and phrases — all from your own thought. Otherwise, it won't do." Therefore I had to assimilate the story before telling it. [...]

The story of "Yoshi-ichi" in the first part of "Kwaidan" pleased Hearn exceedingly. He made that story from a very short one, with great effort and determination. He wished to make one part of it sound stronger. He thought that "Mon o aké" (Open the door) was not an emphatic enough expression for a samurai, and he made it "Kaimon." (This latter word means "Open the door," like the former, but would be more fitting in the speaker's mouth.)

Kaimon 開門 is a fully Sino-Japanese parallel to mon wo ake[ru] 門を開ける, even using the same characters, as you can see. The effect of Hearn's change was to make the samurai character more commanding and aristocratic, not deigning to share even the language of the common folk.

Someone once asked me why Japan had any interest in Hearn's work; couldn't they just read the original versions of the stories he was retelling? This is why. He wasn't just repeating what he heard — he was actively reshaping it into the forms he brought with him from overseas, almost recreating the tales in collaboration with his wife so that he could find and bring into focus things that local tradition had not. (Sometimes because those things were not actually in the stories until he put them there, of course; radical recomposition is not compatible with strict field-recording-style authenticity.)

No posts next week, incidentally! I have a few things to take care of here...

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Though a point may be made that "recomposition" is a more authentic approach to folktales than authenticity. Hearn's method fashioned him into a good storyteller, and after all isn't that what stories are for?

(I'm not saying that there's no value in the botanical treatise; only that the gardener's work is more immediately attuned to the needs of plants and people.)


That's extremely interesting, thanks for posting it! And for the benefit of those who don't already know, the movie is superb as well.


This is also interesting in light of the claim I've read that his Japanese ability was in fact very limited, and that he was reliant on his wife for communication. He certainly doesn't seem to have been able to read or write it, if the official version's correct. As such I'm interested in his ability to pick up the level of vocabulary this anecdote implies and to nail the register of the two expressions.

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