A Yen For 'Anne Of Green Gables'

Anne's face is ubiquitous on the island. She peers out from under her straw boater, all freckles, carrot-red braids and smile. One Anne poster in the provincial capital, Charlottetown, bears the slogan ANNE OF GREEN GABLES ... MY DREAM. As is only fitting in bilingual Canada, that sentiment is also printed in translation-but not in French. In Japanese.

The Japanese are crazy about the girl they call Akage no An, or Anne of the Red Hair. They love the 1908 children's classic, the most popular version of which is in its 99th printing in Japan. They love the musical adaptation, currently touring Japan to sold-out houses. They love the replica of Anne's green-gabled home, which attracted 400,000 visitors this past year to a Canadian theme park on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. And now, in swelling numbers, they are loving Prince Edward Island-home to Anne, and to her creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery. "It's the most extraordinary boom," says Nancy Guptill, PEI's minister of tourism and parks. "When Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote that book, I don't think she had any vision of what she had done for PEI."

Montgomery's book, about a fictional Canadian orphan, was first published in Japan in 1952. Young girls in postwar Japan found inspiration-or, as Anne would say, "a kindred spirit"-in Anne's stoicism, an admired quality the Japanese call gaman. "It's not unusual for a Japanese woman touring Green Gables to suddenly burst into tears," says Janet Wood, director of a private "friends" organization devoted to the home and surrounding park. Islanders began to hype the Anne connection in Japan five years ago; since then, Japanese tourism to PEI has increased 1,400 percent. The island, about 200 miles and two ferry rides northeast of Maine, ranked 16th in a Japanese poll of desirable destinations, ahead of such meccas as Hong Kong and San Francisco.

Fumie Korogi, 29, of Yokohama, is typical. She first visited PEI two years ago with her girlfriends because "Anne" is their ,'most favorite novel." She returned with her fiance. Osamu Kawaguchi, 34, his wife, Masumi, 33, and their two young children made the long drive from Hershey, Pa., where he is studying. Explained the Osaka cardiologist: "My wife wanted to come here more than anything."

The Japanese may not be the ultimate solution to PEI's eternally depressed farming and fishing economy, but in the meantime they'll do. The average Japanese visitor spends about three times as much as his American or Canadian counterpart. They buy handmade Anne dolls, Anne polo shirts, Anne book covers, $500-plus handmade island quilts-and eat pounds and pounds of native lobster,

Businesses have opened just to serve the Japanese. Bluejay Services, for example, publishes tourist guides in Japanese, selling ads to PEI businesses anxious to attract the free-spending visitors. Charlottetown's premier hotel, the Prince Edward, now offers sushi and sashimi and boasts 10 staffers who speak Japanese. Virtually every business claims someone who speaks a bit of the language. "I get by with 'hello' and 'sterling silver'," says Catrina Lee, a salesclerk at the Anne Shop. But the islanders already have competition for the Green Gables market: it was a Japanese company that last year opened the Anne Shop.