There is one text that every Japanese child is encouraged to read while growing up. It comes from across the ocean, from a hidden abode, from a place in which the writer and her family were not even supposed to exist, for she and her family belonged to a population that occupying forces were trying not simply to oppress, but to eliminate from humanity. From that place came a voice, a voice so fragile, yet so unfathomably strong, a voice that was to be crushed in an abrupt and brutal fashion, like a tiny flower bud stomped on by a heavy boot. Yet, that voice did not die, continuing to live on in today’s world, most prominently and persistently in Japan, through the medium of the Japanese translation of Anne Frank’s diary, known in Japanese as Anneno nikki (Anne’s diary). Since its Japanese publication in 1952, nearly six million copies of the book has been sold (Rand 2018). As David G. Goodman and Masanori Miyazawa commented: “Anne Frank and her Diary have become an ingetral, indeed a representative part of postwar Japanese culture” (Goodman and Miyazawa 1995: 168).
Needless to say, the world knows about Anne Frank and the fate that befell her and her family, as well as some six million other Jewish people, during WWII. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank touched millions of hearts. Anne is admired for her undying spirit, her inner strength and her enduring hope, revered by countless children growing up in Japan and throughout the world (Frank 2016; see also Schnabel 2014, Prose 2010, Anne Frank House 2011, Lee 1999; Furanku 2003).
In Japan, boys and girls are encouraged to read Anne Frank’s diary while growing up. I was ten years old when I first read it, as it was a book that children were supposed to read, just like Aesop’s Fables, for example – this was 1970. My niece, who is 33, read it when she was in the elementary school. And pre-teen grandchildren of my friends in Japan are today reading it. For girls in particular, Anne’s diary continues to enjoy enduring popularity, along with works such as Montgomery’s Anne of the Green Gables series and Alcott’s Little Women. To this day, Anne Frank’s diary is a staple among books that are considered as good reads for children. It is included in many educational literary series for children, including one published by Shōgakukan (a publisher specializing in children’s educational books) that also includes works on Helen Keller, Galileo Galilei, the Wright Brothers, Columbus, Nightingale, Marie Curie, Edison, Lincoln, and Beethoven, for example. The series is entitled Sekai no denki or Biographies of the World and the volume on Anne Frank was written by Kijima Kazuko (Kijima 1983). In a series produced by another reputable publisher, Kōdansha, Anne Frank is included alongside Jesus Christ, Helen Keller, Marco Polo, Babe Ruth, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Gandhi, Marie Curie, Edison, the Wright brothers, Beethoven, Nightingale, Lincoln, Columbus, and others (Osanai 1989). Apart from these formal series, Anne Frank’s story has been adapted into diverse educational forms in attempts to reach out to children. For example, an anime ehon or picture book on Anne Frank aimed at tenth-graders was published in 2001 (Ōishi 2001). A manga version of Anne Frank was published (also by Shōgakukan) in 1996, and had been reprinted seventeen times as of 2007 (Sugihara and Takase 1996).
As the effects of anti-Semitic policies intensified and the social atmosphere in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands deteriorated, Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in July 1942 in their hometown of Amsterdam – into a space known as the secret annex. (The family had already relocated from Frankfurt after the rise of the Nazis in the early 1930s.) The secret annex, or back house, had been created behind a bookcase that doubled as a door in the upstairs part of a building that housed a spice import company owned by her father, Otto Frank. The family, along with the other residents that they graciously accommodated, managed to survive here right up until their arrest by the Gestapo in August 1944. Thanks to the assistance of their Dutch helpers as well as their own personal strength, and in spite of the tensions and frustrations that naturally arose in such a difficult living environment, they persisted. On June 12, 1942—her thirteenth birthday—just a few weeks before going into hiding, Anne received a new diary as a birthday gift. She began chronicling her daily life, continuing to do so after the family went to live behind the bookcase. Despite the unnatural and stiflingly confined circumstances in which Anne found herself, her diary documents her remarkable growth in her own words: from a curious and smart girl to a thoughtful adolescent possessing a strong sense of moral responsibility and a respect for human dignity while at the same time remaining capable of crafting penetrating critiques of injustices. After their capture, all of the former residents of the secret annex were sent to the Nazi concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margot were first sent to Auschwitz along with their parents, Later, in October 1944, the two sisters were transported to Bergen-Belsen, where they both died in March 1945 amidst horrific epidemic caused by the Nazi mistreatment. Anne was only fifteen years old. Their mother died at Auschwitz, and their father, Otto Frank, ended up being the only member of the family to survive the concentration camps. There is no need for me to revisit here the unspeakable inhumanities that the detainees were subjected to, as these have already been painfully yet powerfully documented by survivors such as Primo Levi (1995) and Eva Schloss (1988), the latter to become Anne’s step-sister through Otto’s marriage to her mother, also a survivor of the concentration camps.
Japan is also home to a museum, a chapel, a flower garden, and an original statue commemorating Anne Frank and dedicated to her (Takahashi 2002; Shino 1996). In 2007, Reverend Makoto Otsuka has replicated the Franks’ hideout as part of the Holocaust Education Center in Fukuyama, Hiroshima prefecture (“Anne Frank’s” 2007). In 2013 alone, more than 33,000 Japanese visited Anne Frank House on Prinsengracht along the Prinsen canal in Amsterdam (De Clercq 2014). When I visited the Anne Frank House in June 2017, I, too, shared the narrow and steep staircases of the secret annex with a dozen or so young (mostly female) visitors from Japan. Why is Anne Frank so popular in Japan, her diary found on bookstore shelves reserved for one of the country’s longest- and best-selling titles?
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