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Lecture and Study in Cincinnati and New Orleans, July and August 2001

Alan Rosen

This summer I was honored to be asked to speak on Lafcadio Hearn at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in Cincinnati, Ohio, the city where roughly 130 years ago this lonely and very hungry, half-Greek half-Irish boy discovered his talent as a writer and consequently changed Japan.
For me, visiting Cincinnati was especially interesting since, although I had grown up in the United States, I had never been there before.
It was the first of many “firsts” for me on this brief (one-week) but very full lecture and study trip together with about 30 enthusiastic members of the Lafcadio Hearn Society of Japan.
Though I have known the Society’s president, Professor Zenimoto, and the Kumamoto Hearn Society members for years, I was fortunate to be able to make the new acquaintance of many Hearn lovers from various parts of Japan — from Shimane and Tokyo, of course, but also from Toyama and Yamaguchi.

The speech I presented was one hour long on the topic of my recent research, Hearn and Dreams.
The weather that day was quite hot and humid, but the Library’s lecture room was very cool and comfortable. This was good and bad, I realized, as the combination of jet-lag for the Japanese listeners (it was 4 a.m. Japan time), the topic (dreams), and the extraeffort required to comprehend an academic talk in English created a nearly irresistible temptation for the Japanese audience to fall asleep. Which many of them did. Still, it was a rare pleasure for me to be able to speak about Hearn in my mother tongue and in the city of Cincinnati, about which I had read so much through Hearn’s writings.
My only concern was that I try to speak slowly enough for the Japanese members to keep up, but not too slowly so as to bore the native-speaker listeners.

There were many surprises. The first such surprise was the luxuriousness of the hotel room I was given at the Garfield Suites: apent house suite, two floors, two very spacious bedrooms, three bathrooms, a big kitchen with everything you could want including a dishwasher, and two balconies from which to enjoy views of the city.
This hotel room was largerthan my house in Kumamoto. Everyone who saw it said, “Mottainai”. I owe thanks to Dr. Tanaka and his family and to Sylvia Metzinger, the Rare Books librarian, for arranging this and many other things so perfectly.
In Cincinnati we had a custom bus-tour of the city, focussing on places related to Hearn’s life and writings.
Many of the buildings and houses are,of course, no longer standing, so it was interesting to watch many members of our tour group –including me– taking numerous photographs of empty spaces and parking lots and buildings that no longer have anything to do with Hearn except that they may be standing in a spot where we think Hearn used to do something.
Still, it was exciting to be in the same places Hearn had been.

The group’s next visit was to New Orleans. It was my first time there, too. I was dreading the heat, for it is supposedly one of the hottest cities in the US. But compared with summer in Kumamoto, it was not so uncomfortable at all. There was usually a good breeze, a tolerable level of humidity, and once you were in the shade, it was quite pleasant.
I enjoyed nearly everything about the city, and I felt I knew why Hearn had decided to live there so long.
It had polite and friendly people, excellent food (cajun and creole), charming architecture (French Quarter), live music (cajun and dixieland), and a special Southern atmosphere (full moon over the Mississippi River, a steamboat gliding down).

Our visits to the Tulane University Library, with special permission to access their collection of rare Hearn materials, were especially fruitful.
There was an abundance of manuscripts and other material that is very hard, if not impossible, to find in Japan. The staff seemed prepared for our arrival, as they were extremely helpful, kind, and tolerant of our sometimes noisy group of 30 excited visiting researchers. I did not know when I could get another chance to visit Tulane, so I thought it best tospend the entire day looking through the materials and copying, copying, copying.
My suitcase got very heavy, but I am content that I can now spend time leisurely reading over the thick stack of Hearn papers I brought back to Japan.

It was also enjoyable to be part of a Japanese tour group, not in Japan, where I have joined such tours, but in my own country.
This was another first-time experience, and I learned a lot from watching the two cultures interacting.
I was reminded that knowing the language of a countryis only the first step in intercultural communication, and that all of us who participate in the fascinating activity of crossing cultures need to continue our efforts to understand and to be understood. Wherever we went,Hearn was with us in spirit, as we all tried to be cross-cultural bridges for understanding.

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