‘Anne of Green Gables,’ A Japanese Phenomenon?

Image source: Nippon Animation
'Anne of Green Gables,' A Japanese Phenomenon?
Image source: Simon and Schuster

In Hokkaido, Japan there is a near-exact replica of the Green Gables household from the famous Anne of Green Gables stories. It was once one of the main attractions in Japan’s Canadian World theme park (yes, Japan dedicated a whole theme park to Canada). It once pulled in thousands of visitors a day, but the tourism visits have dropped in recent years. It probably seems odd for Japan to fall in love with a young red-headed girl from Canada, but really the tale of Anne of Green Gables reads just like some of the most famous anime or manga of Japan.

The original story is about a young red-headed Canadian girl with a highly imaginative and intelligent mind. Anne is also defiant of common female stereotypes and inspired many young woman to live outside the box of female conventions from the early 1900’s. All of this eventually led to inspiring passion among the Japanese female audience.

'Anne of Green Gables,' A Japanese Phenomenon?
Image source: Nippon Animation

This passion started back around World War II. Much of the credit is given to a woman named Hanako Muraoka, who worked as a translator of children’s literature during the 1940s and 50s. She received the story of Anne of Green Gables from a missionary and worked to translate in secret, as America was considered Japan’s enemy at that time in history. While the war raged in the countryside around her, Hanako read, re-read, and translated the book into Japanese. Many see her as the reason the book reached Japanese audiences at all.

The reason Anne relates so easily to the Japanese is partly because of the personality quality called, “kawaii”, which is all about young women being cute, charming, or lovely. The Japanese love for the Green Gables has also led to a tourism boom in Canada at Prince Edward Island where the real Green Gables house sits. Many of the visitors are older women with their young daughters.

Some believe that the effort to push the Anne of Green Gables story theme on impressionable Japanese children was from the U.S.. Many of the first printings of the Japanese translations were put out in libraries that were controlled by U.S. State Department in portions of Japan that were occupied by the Allies in the early 1950’s. The story promotes the value of young girls, and that both men and women can be smart and productive members of society (an ideology that was not always supported in Japan). They suppose that Anne of Green Gables was a sort of subtle American publicity promoting the more liberal beliefs of the U.S. at the time.

Whatever the reason or motivations, Anne’s story continues to be reworked into anime and manga. A noteworthy favorite? The popular anime series in the 1970’s by Nippon Animation; here is the theme song and animation:

 

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