Yanagita Kunio is known as “The Father of Japanese Folklore.” If not for him, many ancient Japanese legends would have been lost to the tides of modernization. He established folklore as a legitimate field of academic study as he traveled his nation, carefully listening to the thoughts, concerns, and stories or ordinary people. Yanagita is little known in the Western world, but his contributions are just as important as – and remarkably similar to – those of the Brothers Grimm.
Without the work of early folklorists, many commonly known children’s stories – and the works they’ve inspired – wouldn’t exist today. Fields such as literature, film, art, and even comic books would be much poorer without the hard work done by Yanagita to preserve Japan’s shared cultural memory.
Activity: Discover Early Folklorists
Have students research the lives and work of the people who helped to establish the field of folklore in the 19th Century. Students can, in groups or as individuals, write and present reports that summarize the biography and work of an early folklorist. Encourage students to choose subjects from around the world so that biographies and folklore work can be compared and contrasted.
Akage no An, the Japanese translation of Anne of Green Gables, has remained wildly popular in Japan for 70 years. But why has a story about a redheaded orphan from Canada’s smallest province become such an essential part of Japanese literature? Hanako Muraoka, the translator who brought this book to her country, published this story at just the right time, when her war-torn nation was eager for a simple story about a girl with realistic struggles, dreams, and relationships.
In the second of two episodes about the impressive life of Hanako Muraoka, learn about how the translation of Anne of Green Gables was finally published and why it became so popular in Japan. Much of this story can only now be known because of the publication of Anne’s Cradle: The Life and Works of Hanako Muraoka, Japanese Translator of Anne of Green Gables. This engaging biography was written by Hanako’s granddaughter Eri Muraoka and has much to teach us about the power of literature to bring people together, even when they come from countries that were once enemies.
Activity: Discussion or Essay Questions for Anne’s Cradle
After reading chapters nine and ten of Anne’s Cradle, consider the following questions. Answers could come in the form of a class discussion, short reflection, or essay.
Chapter 9: Hanako had mixed feelings about her father’s death. Do you feel that he did a good or bad job as a father toward his children?
Chapter 10: Hanako gave her mother a Buddhist funeral, even though she herself was a Christian. What does this say about Hanako’s ability to understand and respect different beliefs?
Hanako Muraoka is a name that is revered in Japan, but this remarkable woman is hardly known outside her home country. That should change with the publication of Anne’s Cradle: The Life and Works of Hanako Muraoka, Japanese Translator of Anne of Green Gables. This biography was written by Hanako’s granddaughter Eri Muraoka, and has been expressively translated into English by Cathy Hirano, who brought the phrase “spark joy” into existence when she translated The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. For more information about this book, check out its page over at Nimbus Publishing.
Hanako’s life is well worth discovering. Her life was burdened with many hardships. Born to a poor family, she grew up as a scholarship student in a boarding school with very few chances to see her family. As a devout Christian, she was a member of a stigmatized and mistrusted minority group during dangerous times. She lost loved ones to disease and war, yet always found a way to regain her faith in friendships and the power of books to bring people together. Her hard work led her to an impressive career as a teacher, writer, editor, translator, publisher, and radio host during a time when few women were permitted to be employed at all.
Just before the outbreak of World War II, a Canadian colleague presented Hanako with a parting gift before she fled the country to return home. It was a much-loved copy of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, which Hanako promised to translate into English. She kept the book secret during the war, hiding a work by a “foreign enemy” that could have gotten her into quite a lot of trouble. By the end of the war, this beautiful tale had been translated into eloquent, expressive Japanese.
This episode covers Hanako’s life until the end of World War II. In the next episode, I’ll conclude her tale, revealing how Anne of Green Gables became one of the most popular books in modern Japan.
In this episode I mentioned this heartwarming video made by the Embassy of Japan in Canada, where Eri Muraoka speaks a little about her grandmother and the reasons she worked so hard to translate Anne of Green Gables.
Activity: Discussion or Essay Questions for Anne’s Cradle
After reading the first eight chapters of Anne’s Cradle, consider the following questions. Answers could come in the form of a class discussion, short reflection, or essay.
Chapter 1: Hanako’s father was a very unconventional man. In what ways did this positively and negatively affect his abilities as a father?
Chapter 2: Hanako’s family was relatively poor and low status. When she arrived at her new boarding school she was suddenly surrounded by classmates who came from wealthy, even noble backgrounds. She had to learn not only to speak English but a higher-status style of Japanese. How would it have felt as a girl of only ten to suddenly experience such a change?
Chapter 3: In what ways did Hanako’s education and upbringing leave her well prepared to understand Anne of Green Gables when she eventually encountered the book?
Chapter 4: Hanako’s friend Asako Hirooka says, “I want you to use your education not just to raise your own status but to raise the status of every woman in Japan.” Hirooka’s goal was to gain full human rights for women, along with the ability to vote. Why would she have felt that high status women could not have helped her cause by remaining focused on their own achievements? Can holding up the achievements of a few exceptional women serve as a distraction from broader issues affecting women as a class of people?
Chapter 5: Keizo Muraoka remained in a difficult position, still legally married to a wife he had not seen in three years but concerned about his religious prohibition on divorce. Was it fair to Keizo and Hanako to have referred to their early attraction as an “illicit affair”? Should they have felt so much guilt about their relationship? The text remains silent as to the first wife’s wishes or opinion regarding the divorce. Is it possible to imagine what opinions she might have held?
Chapter 6: Much of Hanako’s career success came from her ability to spot gaps in existing markets and find niches for herself to work in. How did she leverage business, personal, and community connections to find roles she was uniquely suited to fill?
Chapter 7: When Hanako is offered a job as a radio host, she turns to her husband Keizo for advice. How does their conversation demonstrate that they had a very effective partnership?
Chapter 8: For nine years, Hanako was a major radio star, famous across the nation for her children’s news program. During World War II, rather than read out government propaganda, Hanako quit her job. Would you have been able to not only turn away from a great career, but put yourself at risk by showing that you did not support a totalitarian government?