In Japan, the Hands Can Be Used Like A Knife


Am I the only one having a Lafcadio Hearn moment lately? I've been getting a Hearnia thanks to frequent cable showings of Masaki Kobayashi's stupendiferous ghost movie Kwaidan, one of the best Japanese movie of the sixties. Kwaidan in turn is based on a collection of stories by the oddly named Hearn (A.K.A. Koizumi Yakumo), an Irish-Greek-American-Japanese writer who became the greatest bignose journalist writing about Japan in the early twentieth century. I was interested to come across this article in The Atlantic, which gives a fascinating look at his checkered career and increasingly high-flown style.

Whenever a magazine article makes claims about some cultural figure's importance in some other country, it's a sure bet that nobody in that country pays any attention to him; and sure enough, I've never known any Japanese who has heard of Lafcadio Hearn. But Kwaidan is a great movie and a great specimen of the cultural cross-pollination Tyler Cowen and others talk about. Akira Kurosawa is the most frequently cited example of this phenomenon, since he borrowed from Shakespeare and Dashiell Hammett and gave back western-style movies that seemed novel to westerners. Hearn, who eventually became a Japanese citizen, is the reverse of that: a westerner refining pieces of Japanese culture that were already starting to fade in Japan. Proof that even in a notoriously closed culture, immigrants brighten up the joint.

NEXT: Laugh So You Don't Cry

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  1. BWwwaaaaahhh?

  2. Japan isn’t as closed a culture as the “party line” states.

  3. I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but that’s a wicked cool headline.


    BTW, the Western/Rationalist supremacists around here will be happy to learn that, in his youth, Kurosowa sought to move beyond the backwards, closed culture of Imperial Japan by linking his art closely with a revolutionary, anti-feudal Western thinker.

    Karl Marx

  4. And then he grew out of it….

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