Culture & Education


The resonance between the Japanese and Irish views of nature - on the opening of the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Gardens

On 26 June, the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Gardens opened in the small seaside resort town of Tramore, overlooking the Celtic Sea in Co. Waterford.  Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, also known by his Japanese name Koizumi Yakumo, was an Irish writer now most famous for his collection of Japanese ghost stories entitled “Kwaidan”. 

As Lafcadio Hearn’s great-grandson, I attended the opening of the gardens with my wife and found it a very moving experience.  Very different from the kind of Japanese gardens you generally see abroad, these gardens are a unique representation of the life and spiritual beliefs of Lafcadio Hearn, with nine gardens each telling the story of a different stage in his one-way journey two-thirds of the way around the globe.  It was local historian Agnes Aylward who initially proposed the project, and her design concept was realised thanks to the imagination, enthusiasm and skill of landscape gardener Martin Curran. 

When we visited Tramore three years ago, Agnes took us to see a number of historical sites and places related to Hearn, including the house where he used to stay on his visits there.  The last place Agnes showed us was the proposed site for the gardens, where she told us about her dream to create the Lafcadio Hearn Gardens.  Standing there and listening to her words as dusk approached, we were deeply affected.  A mere three years later, I am amazed and delighted to see that her vision has become a reality.

When Hearn was a child, he learned to swim in Tramore, and enjoyed listening to the fairy tales and ghost stories his nurse Catherine Costello used to tell him.  The two stories “Three Wishes” and “Animal Languages” that Catherine told him have been passed down in my family to my generation.

In later years, the 51-year-old Hearn wrote about his childhood to William Butler Yeats, celebrated for his retellings of Irish fairy tales.  Hearn confesses his affection for traditional Irish culture, saying, “I had a Connaught nurse who told me fairy tales and ghost stories. So I ought to love Irish things, and do.”  This is why I believe Tramore was one of the places that were central to Hearn’s understanding of the Celtic spirit that underlies Irish history.

Hearn lived in a house with a Japanese garden in the town of Matsue, and wrote an essay called “In a Japanese Garden”.  In the essay, he explains how Japanese animism lies at the core of the Japanese view of nature, and the personal affinity he himself feels with this view.  He writes, “That trees, at least Japanese trees, have souls cannot seem an unnatural fancy to one who has seen the blossoming of the umenoki and the sakuranoki. This is a popular belief in Izumo and elsewhere.”

I have seen fairy trees and wishing trees many times in central and western parts of Ireland.  Like Japan, animist beliefs have been passed down in Ireland since the time of the druids.  In essence, I feel that Japan and Ireland share the same sense of awe towards nature. 

I hope that these gardens will show the world the resonance between the Japanese and Irish views of nature, and pass on the message of the importance of living in harmony with nature which Hearn advocated throughout his life.  As a cultural resource in Tramore and a new tourist attraction, I also hope the gardens will contribute to the development of the region as a whole, and become a popular destination for many visitors from both Ireland and overseas. 

On 10 October, a delegation from Japan will visit the gardens, and a relief of Lafcadio Hearn by Minoru Kurasawa will be presented by Matsue City.  Also in October, a special exhibition will be held at the Little Museum of Dublin, and the actor Shiro Sano and guitarist Kyoji Yamamoto will give a series of live reading performances of works by Hearn in Dublin, Waterford and Galway. 

I would like to express my thanks to Agnes who suggested the original idea for this new and unique project, and all the members of the local community for their support, as well as the representatives of the Irish and Japanese governments for their cooperation and assistance.

(Professor, University of Shimane Junior College, great-grandson of Lafcadio Hearn)