Hanako Muraoka: Hope for the Future Poured into the Translation of Anne of Green Gables

How many of those who casually picked up a Japanese language version of the classic novel Anne of Green Gables as children or young adults had the Hanako Muraoka translation in their hands?

Born in 1893, Hanako Muraoka left her parents at the tender age of ten to receive an intensive English-based Christian education at a Canadian mission school. Meanwhile, she also honed her sensitivity to the Japanese language as a disciple of the tanka poet Sasaki Nobutsuna, and even seriously considered becoming a poet herself at one stage. This education in early life paved the way for the translator that Hanako ultimately became.

At a time when literature for women and children was greatly undervalued, Hanako saw the need for it and channeled her energies into translating the fresh British and American literature that came into her possession. By the end of her stormy life at age 75, she had translated numerous English- language classics, including The Prince and The Pauper, A Dog of Flanders and A Christmas Carol. But her crowning achievement was to introduce Japan to the works of Canadian author L. M. Montgomery.

Hanako was handed a copy of Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables by a Canadian missionary just before the breakout of WWII, and translated it in secret through the ravages of the war. Why did she feel a need to protect this book—despite the status of English as an enemy language and in the face of the terrifying bombs that were falling around her? What did translating this novel mean to her?

Language changes with the passing of the times, and the nature of the publishing business is that even classic translations succumb to newer renderings in time. Yet, Hanako’s translations of the Anne novels remain vibrant, their slightly old-fashioned turns of phrase part of their lasting charm.

With anecdotes about who she was at home and her interactions with the literati of the times, this presentation will look at the life of Hanako Muraoka—a woman who found her calling in translation—and the enduring appeal of her work.