One of the strangest connections between The Land of the Rising Sun (Japan, for the uninitiated) and The Garden of the Gulf (Prince Edward Island, for the uninitiated and virtually everyone else as well) is Lucy Maude Montgomery’s timeless novel Anne of Green Gables. It is but one of a series of Edwardian-era novels featuring plucky red-tressed heroine Anne Shirley, famous throughout the world as the girl whose name is always, but always, prefaced with the words “plucky red-tressed heroine”. For sake of brevity, I will abandon this custom for the duration of this article, or at least I’ll try. Orphaned as a child, Anne came to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, an elderly brother and sister, in a white farmhouse (with green-trimmed gables, hence the title) in the rural community of Cavendish, PEI. Her curiosity, headstrong stubbornness, and unparalleled sense of mischief conspired to fashion a whirlwind of melodrama and humor around the young protagonist, and about the lives of all she touched as well. Anne is particularly beloved in Japan, especially by thirty-something Japanese women, many of whom read the book as part of their English instruction during their school years, and admired the brashness of young Anne, a commodity not regularly on display among Japanese women. So nowadays they come to PEI in droves, singly and in groups, to wander the halls and the grounds of Green Gables, which, unlike its plucky red-tressed heroine (stop me…) is quite real.
When I first moved to the US as a child, other kids in my New Jersey grade school would ask me where I was from, sensing no doubt from my accent (eh?) that I was not quite like them in some mysterious way. I told them I was from Prince Edward Island, and was quite often asked “What part of the United States is that?” Once a sixth-grader even threatened to beat me up when I patiently explained to him that Canada was bigger than the United States (“Is not, you punk,” he told me in no uncertain terms, poking a finger into my chest), so I set about adopting a generic East Coast accent as quickly as humanly possible, as a matter of simple self-preservation. In Japan, by contrast, when I tell folks that I am from Prince Edward Island, and that I live there part time, they go “Hwaaahhh! Akage no Ann” (“Akage no Anne” being the title of Anne of Green Gables in Japanese; literally, it translates to “Red-Haired Anne”, sans “plucky”). These people know about PEI (quelle surprise…), and react with something more akin to envy than suspicious wariness. They even know how to find it on a map! On top of that, a surprising number of them have visited the homestead, have sat upon the milking stool and “milked” a life-size Plasticine model of Marilla’s cow, gazed through Anne’s garret doorway and dreamt what it must have been like to toss and turn in her diminutive bed, and donned the ubiquitous red-pigtail wigs and jaunty beribboned caps to pose for pictures they will surely regret later in life.
Also, I suspect, lurking somewhere behind the oh-so-composed Asian facades, are teeming hordes of titillating fantasies, all rooted in the visualization of the guilty pleasure of wreaking mischievous havoc upon an unsuspecting husband, boyfriend or boss in much the same fashion that Anne might have done in an analogous situation.