September 29, 2014

Hanako and Anne

Yuriko Yoshitaka (featured in the second season of Galileo) just finished playing Anne of Green Gables translator Hanako Muraoka in NHK's Asadora morning melodrama, Hanako and Anne.

The series is based on a biographical novel written by her granddaughter, Eri Muraoka. The fictional version streamlines and simplifies her childhood, and goes out of its way to draw parallels between Hanako's life and Anne's story.

Hanako had seven siblings in real life, three in the series. As in Anne of Green Gables, the farming out of "excess" children to relatives was common practice. Hanako's daughter was actually her sister's child. Her own son died at the age of five.

This adoption (once quite common in Japan and still done today) is depicted in the series.

A Christian, Hanako's father had his daughter baptized into the Methodist Church (that part left out). From the age of ten, Hanako boarded at a missionary school for girls in Tokyo. The school, Toyo Eiwa Junior High and High School, still exists.

Like Anne, after graduating (with the equivalent of an associate's degree), she taught school before marrying and becoming a full-time writer. In the 1930s, she hosted a weekly children's program on NHK radio.

Hanako translated just about every popular work of young adult English literature published in the 19th and early 20th centuries, starting with The Prince and the Pauper and including Polyanna, The Secret Garden, and Anne of Green Gables.

Between 1927 and 1968, she translated two books a year on average. Published in 1952, her abridged version of Anne of Green Gables (completed in secret during the war) became a bestseller.

Over a dozen new translations and annotated editions of "Red-Haired Anne" (as it's titled in Japan) have been published since. The book appeared at exactly the right time in 1952 to leave a lasting imprint on the culture.

Hanako's life and career are also a good example of necessary and sufficient conditions coming together. Hanako was born with all the right tweaks in her Broca's area to make the most of a unique opportunity, and coupled that with tons of drive.

The television series depicts her as fanatical about learning English, far more than her classmates, which I think is exactly right. Nobody devotes that fabled "10,000 hours" to mastering a skill if they don't like it and don't consistently improve at it.

The series ends with the publication of Anne of Green Gables. Hanako traveled to North America for the first time in 1967. She died the next year at the age of 75.

The life of a translator is not all that interesting, so the series devotes a considerable amount of screen time to the real-life soap opera of Hanako's classmate and friend, Byakuren Yanagihara ("Renko" in the series), a cousin of the Taisho Emperor.

Their friendship reveals the sociolinguistic conventions of the time: Hanako always refers to Renko using the honorific "-sama" while Renko addresses Hanako using the diminutive "-chan."

Byakuren married three times. The first two were blatant exchanges of titles for money, her brother having screwed up the family finances. She ended the second marriage (to a coal magnate thirty years her senior) with a scandalous affair and very public divorce.

Along the way she published several collections of tanka poetry and became a vocal advocate for women's rights.

Stripped of her title, she lived a much happier life as a commoner (though was devastated by the war-time death of her son in 1945). She and her third husband were married for 46 years, until her death in 1967.

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