Walking around the outskirts of Ashibetsu, Hokkaido, you might be surprised to stumble upon a little Canadian village, complete with a green-gabled house and a Victorian church, only no people.
Anne of Green Gables has been loved for generations, but to Japan it seems to represent some kind of nostalgic Western gentility, much like Heidi does to the United States. Many Japanese Anne-fans even make pilgrimages to the real Prince Edward Island (which has benefited heavily from the tourism drawn in by Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel about a redheaded orphan girl sent to live on a farm). But for those who can’t make the trip halfway around the world, there is Canadian World.
The founders of the park were so inspired by the idyllic Prince Edward Island setting of Anne of Green Gables, they built a scale model of the Canadian seaside village in Ashibetsu, Japan. When the private theme park went bankrupt in 1997, the city adopted Canadian World. It’s now a city park, free to visit and staffed by volunteers, though it still has all the trappings of the fictional town of Avonlea.
There are full-sized Victorian-style row houses surrounding a paved roundabout lit by iron street lamps. Visitors can go inside the buildings, including Anne’s farmhouse with the famous green gables, authentically modeled on Montgomery’s descriptions and accompanied by brief excerpts from the novel. Saccharine piano music is piped in over speakers both inside and outside buildings. An old-fashioned train runs around the pond at the center of the town. Directional signs bear the park’s logo and a cartoon drawing of Anne with her signature braids and straw hat with the text “Anne of Canadian World”.
Visitors to the park often find it mostly empty. It’s in Hokkaido, which is relatively out of the way compared to most of Japan, and receives heavy snowfall in winter months. The park is boarded up during its off-season, and some predict that it’s only a matter of years before it simply doesn’t reopen in the spring. However, Japan’s love for Anne Shirley is still going strong, which some speculate stemmed from a national feeling of post-war orphanhood. The book (“Akage no Anne”, or “Red Haired Anne”) is still widely circulated, as is the 1979 anime based on it. A musical version, too, remains popular.