Anne’s Cradle

Playwright Carolyn Nakagawa awarded commission

Playwright Carolyn Nakagawa
Photo by Javier R. Sotres

A new stage production telling a story of the special connection between Japan and Prince Edward Island is currently in development. 

Confederation Centre of the Arts has commissioned writer Carolyn Nakagawa to adapt the book Anne’s Cradle: The Life and Works of Hanako Muraoka into a play. The bestselling biography of the Japanese translator of Anne of Green Gables tells the complex and captivating story of a woman who risked her freedom and devoted her life to bringing quality children’s literature to her people during a period of tumultuous change in Japan.

“Hanako’s story is riveting, and she played a remarkable role in promoting cultural exchange and friendship between Canada and Japan,” says Adam Brazier, the Centre’s artistic director of performing arts. “Confederation Centre of the Arts has been developing new theatrical works for nearly 60 years, and we are excited to continue sharing diverse cultural perspectives and telling the stories that shaped Canada.” 

After an international search, the Centre selected Carolyn Nakagawa—a Japanese Canadian poet and playwright based in Vancouver, BC—to adapt the piece for the stage. Her work addresses themes such as the nuances of identity in collective contexts, and history’s continuing impact on the present. Her plays have been presented by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre and Ruby Slippers Theatre. She holds an honours degree in English Literature and Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies from the University of British Columbia.

The piece is in the early stages of development, and to help with its creation, Nakagawa will partake in the Polyphonic Multilingual Creation Residency at rice & beans theatre in Vancouver. The residency provides theatre creators everything they need for focused, uninterrupted time on their work—including financial support, access to studio space, and dramaturgical feedback. 

“Like Hanako, I am shaped by both Japanese and Atlantic Canadian cultures,” says Nakagawa. “My father’s ancestors were from Japan; my mother has generations of ancestors from Newfoundland. I remember her reading Anne of Green Gables to me as a bedtime story. It thrills me that the person who brought this piece of Canada to Japan was also a heroine in her own right, and it is an honour for me to tell her story.” 

The book Anne’s Cradle tells the story of Hanako Muraoka—a novelist and translator who brought the story of Anne of Green Gables to Japan. When she was offered a place at a school in Tokyo founded by the Methodist Church of Canada, she fell in love with English-language poetry and literature. After the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, the Canadian missionaries were forced to leave Japan. But Hanako found solace in a gift from a friend: a copy of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables

Amidst the wail of air-raids sirens, she began translating her copy into Japanese, fully aware that she risked imprisonment and even death if caught. It was not until 1952 when a Japanese publisher took a chance on a story from an unknown Canadian author and released Akage no An. The book was an immediate success and unwittingly launched a cross-cultural literary legacy that continues to this day. This year, Montgomery fans celebrate the author’s 150th birthday.