When I was 10 years old, I found a book titled “Akage no An” (“Anne with Red Hair”) in a library. It was a Japanese translation of “Anne of Green Gables” written by Canadian novelist Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942) in 1908.
I became absorbed in reading the novel, fascinated by the heroine Anne Shirley, a cheerful and romantic orphan girl raised by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, middle-aged siblings. The pastoral world of Prince Edward Island on the east coast of Canada, where the story is set, seemed to me like a wonderland.
So I was excited when a granddaughter of Montgomery, Kate Macdonald Butler, came to Japan in December, the 100th anniversary year of the internationally beloved classic publication.
At an event held at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo on Dec. 4, Butler, and Eri Muraoka — granddaughter of Hanako Muraoka (1893-1968), who translated the novel into Japanese — gave presentations about the book and their grandmothers. About 200 fans of Anne attended the event.
In Butler’s speech, she said Montgomery loved her home, Prince Edward Island, with its beautiful hills, woods and shores.
“Her celebration of its beauty is the lyrical charm to her writing. In nature she found peace and spiritual fulfillment,” Butler said. Then she read aloud from the book a scene in which Anne sees a long canopy of snowy, fragrant apple tree blossoms during her first buggy drive with Matthew Cuthbert on the way to his home, Green Gables. “Oh, Mr. Cuthbert,” she whispered, “that place we came through — that white place — what was it?’‘
“Well now, you must mean the Avenue,” said Matthew after a few moments’ profound reflection. “It is a kind of pretty place.”
“Pretty? Oh, pretty doesn’t seem the right word to use. Nor beautiful, either. They don’t go far enough. Oh, it was wonderful—wonderful. It’s the first thing I ever saw that couldn’t be improved upon by imagination. It just satisfied me here” — she put one hand on her breast — “it made a queer funny ache and yet it was a pleasant ache. Did you ever have an ache like that, Mr. Cuthbert?’‘
“Well now, I just can’t recollect that I ever had.’‘
“I have it lots of times — whenever I see anything royally beautiful. But they shouldn’t call that lovely place the Avenue. There is no meaning in a name like that. They should call it — let me see — the White Way of Delight. Isn’t that a nice imaginative name?’‘
After reading, Butler and Muraoka shared memories of their grandmothers with the audience. Butler recalled her first trip to Japan in 2005, when she visited Hanako Muraoka’s house in Tokyo’s Ota Ward, where she had translated the novel.
“It was a very moving moment to sit where your grandmother translated my grandmother’s story. Did you feel like that, too?” Butler asked Eri Muraoka.
“I was very moved, too,” Muraoka answered. “My grandmother wrote in the afterword of one of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ sequels, ‘If I could have met Mrs. Montgomery, we would have been bosom friends.”
Bosom friend is the words that Anne used for Diana, her closest confident, in the novel.
“Perhaps when my grandmother was translating what your grandmother expressed in her works, she found that she shared values and views on life with your grandmother,” Muraoka said. “Even though they never met, my grandmother seemed to have had spiritual ties to your grandmother.”
Butler asked Muraoka to come on her first trip to Prince Edward Island last year. Muraoka said she was touched upon seeing the places written about in the novel as well as those that related to the author’s life.
According to the Canadian Tourism Commission, more than 8,000 Japanese visited the island in 2008. The number of Japanese tourists to the island from January to October 2008 rose 70 percent from that of the previous year.
Celebrations of the centennial of Anne’s story took place last year on Prince Edward Island, as they did in Japan, home to some of her most enthusiastic fans. Anne’s popularity here has been facilitated by Muraoka’s translation, first published in 1952. Muraoka studied English literature in a girls’ school in Tokyo that had been established by Canadian missionaries.
A summary of ‘Anne of Green Gables’
Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphan with red hair, is sent from Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada to neighboring Prince Edward Island to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert at a farm house called Green Gables. Though the middle-aged siblings were expecting a sturdy boy to help around the farm, they decide to raise the talkative and bright young girl.
While Anne has a fierce temper and tumbles into one scrape after another, Marilla and Matthew come to love the imaginative girl who just wants to find a home. She builds friendships with local people such as Diana Barry, whom she calls her “bosom friend.”
Anne finds plenty of adventures in the quiet community of Avonlea. At school, she hits her classmate Gilbert Blythe with her writing slate after he teases her about her red hair, calling her “carrots.” Provoked by another classmate, Anne climbs up on the roof of Diana’s house, promptly falling off and breaking her ankle.
But she works hard at school and home while enjoying the beautiful nature of the island. As years pass and Anne grows up to become an intelligent young lady, she succeeds in entering Queen’s Academy, a teachers school on the island, and Marilla, a strict and stubborn woman, learns to honestly express her love for Anne.
Anne receives the highest mark in English literature at the academy, for which she is given a scholarship to study at a college. When Matthew suddenly dies, though, Anne decides to stay with Marilla and teach at a local school. Seven sequels by Montgomery follow the continuing adventures in Anne’s life.
One of Muraoka’s friends, the missionary Loretta Leonard Shaw, gave “Anne of Green Gables” to Muraoka in 1939, according to “An no Yurikago” (“Anne’s Cradle”), the biography of Muraoka written by her granddaughter. It was shortly before the outbreak of World War II, and Shaw, being from Canada, was forced to leave the country. Before she did, though, she asked Muraoka to introduce the novel to Japanese girls by translating it when peace returned.
Muraoka went ahead with translating the novel soon after, according to the biography. When the U.S. Air Force in April 1945 bombed southern Tokyo, where Muraoka was living, she held the novel and her manuscripts of Japanese translation in her arms, dashing into the air-raid shelter in her garden. She and the translation narrowly survived the bombing.
Soon after, her Japanese translation of “Anne of Green Gables” was published in 1952, and the book became a best-seller. More than 1 million copies of the novel have been sold to this day, according to Shinchosha Publishing Co.
The story has also been adapted for the stage. The Shiki Theatre Company has performed a musical about Anne around 500 times since April 1980. The show is a Japanese version of the musical that has been staged on the Prince Edward Island since 1965.
“The success of the musical here comes from the supreme popularity of the book,” said Takaho Nishimura, spokesperson for the theater company.
Perhaps the most Japanese interpretation of Anne is an animation. Produced by Nippon Animation, the cartoon series of “Anne of Green Gables” was first screened in January 1979 and has been re-broadcast on TV, CS or BS channels for around 10 years. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the series this year, Nippon Animation will broadcast a new version from April.
Titled “Konnichiwa An” (“Hello Anne”), it is based on “Before Green Gables,” which Canadian novelist Budge Wilson wrote as a story detailing Anne’s life before her arrival at Green Gables. The book was published by Penguin Group in the United States and Canada in February, and the Japanese translation was published by Shinchosha Publishing in July.
Setsuko Iwasaki of Nippon Animation said the company staff were very much interested in “Anne before Green Gables” as the prequel of the best-seller. “Konnichiwa An” narrates 11 years of Anne’s life before she meets Matthew and Marilla, Iwasaki said in the e-mail.
“While Anne has a tough life of poverty and labor under her foster parents, by developing her imagination, she never loses hope. The story depicts the start of the life of Anne Shirley, who is always positive and has rich emotions,” she said.
An exhibition on Anne has also been held here. The “Anne of Green Gables Exhibition,” which visited five cities throughout 2008 and continued up until Jan. 12, has attracted some 170,000 people, according to organizers. The exhibition, which includes the manuscript of an “Anne” sequels by Montgomery and a Japanese manuscript by Muraoka, will travel to Sendai and Kumamoto Prefecture in March.
Though the centennial of the novel is now over, the boom in anything Anne- related in Japan should continue throughout this year, and probably for much, much longer.