Book details life of Japanese translator of Anne of Green Gables

·3 min read
Hanako Muraoka never got to visit P.E.I., but her granddaughter hopes to soon. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
Hanako Muraoka never got to visit P.E.I., but her granddaughter hopes to soon. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

The story of the writer who translated Anne of Green Gables into Japanese in 1952 is now accessible to English speakers with the publication of Anne's Cradle: The Life and Works of Hanako Muraoka, Japanese Translator of Anne of Green Gables.

Anne's Cradle was originally written in Japanese by Eri Muraoka, Hanako's granddaughter. Cathy Hirano wrote the English translation of Anne's Cradle, which was published last month.

"[Hanako] knew the value of good literature for young people," said Hirano in an interview with CBC's Kerry Campbell for Mainstreet P.E.I.

Eri's book about her grandmother was the inspiration for the 2014 Japanese TV show Hanako to Anne, a fictionalized depiction of Hanako's life.

'In love with the English language'

Hanako's life was more than worthy of its own book.

"In some ways her life was a little bit similar, I think, to Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables," Hirano said. "She wasn't an orphan but her family was extremely poor, and they didn't have enough money to raise their children."

But Hanako's father "was adamant that his daughter should get an education," Hirano said. This was very unconventional for the early 1900s in Japan.

From the age of nine, Hanako attended a Christian boarding school and was taught by Canadian missionaries. One of those missionaries was from P.E.I. Although the school was not where Hanako first read Anne of Green Gables, Hirano said Hanako learned a great deal about classic literature during her schooling days.

"I think she really fell in love with the English language," Hirano said.

Anne kept hope alive

As the Second World War approached, many of Hanako's Canadian missionary friends were forced to leave Japan.

One of those friends was Loretta Leonard Shaw from Saint John, N.B.

"It was that good friend who gave her the copy of Anne of Green Gables before she left. It was like a parting gift," Hirano said.

Hirano said the novel "kept hope alive in [Hanako's] heart that some day there would be peace again. She would see her friends again. They would not have to fight one another."

During the war, Hanako translated L.M. Montgomery's iconic book in secret as English was considered "the enemy language."

It's been extremely moving for me both as a translator and a Canadian. — Cathy Hirano, translator

"She didn't know when the war would end," Hirano said. "She didn't know if anyone would publish the book. But she just felt, 'I have to.'"

Hanako published her translation of Anne of Green Gables after the war ended. It became a bestseller. She went on to translate all of Montgomery's sequels to Anne of Green Gables.

A project across time and place

Hirano said Eri had a lot of curiosity about her grandmother, as Hanako passed away when Eri was very young.

"She just really wanted to know, 'What made my grandmother do this? What made her translate Anne of Green Gables at the risk of her life during the war?'"

Eri's mother had planned to write a book about Hanako, but Eri took on the project after her mother passed away.

Hirano said her experience of translating Anne's Cradle is "very hard to put into words."

"It's been extremely moving for me both as a translator and a Canadian," Hirano said.

According to Hirano, Hanako was not only a writer and translator, but an activist for women's rights and "for good children's literature because in the publishing industry it wasn't considered important."

"All I do is translate," Hirano said. "She was a real activist."

Hanako never set foot on P.E.I. before she died in 1968. But Hirano said that Eri hopes to visit the Island once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

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