The Forever Christmas Tree

The Forever Christmas Tree by Yoshiko Uchida, illustrated by Kazue Mizumura.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963.

I love discussing Christmas customs around the world with the girls. Last year, Big Sis's 2nd grade class did a week-long social studies unit on international holiday customs. When she told me that the following day's lesson would be about Japan, I showed her a picture a friend of mine took in Osaka. It was of the long line outside the local KFC on Christmas Eve night. Kentucky Fried Chicken has become the thing there. Of course, Christmas is a minor secular holiday in Japan. I just find it very interesting.

I found this book on the library website this year, and requested it. Published in 1963, a good decade before the start of the KFC craze, it is the lovely story of a little boy and girl in Japan, learning about Christmas for the first time.

Yoshiko Uchida was the daughter of Japanese immigrants. During the WWII, the family spent three years in an American internment camp, an experience she wrote about in the novel Journey to Topaz. She became a well-regarded writer of children's books, fiction and nonfiction. Several of her books are still in print. Unfortunately, this sweet book is not one of them. The illustrator is Kazue Mizumura, about whom I can find little information.  Mizumura was the illustrator of a great many children's books, few of which seem to be in print today.

The book takes place in a a little village high in the snowy Japanese hills. A little boy named Takashi is lonely. His parents are working in the fields or at home, and his older sister, Kaya, is in school. Their only neighbor is a grumpy, friendless old man that the siblings have dubbed "Mr. Thunder."

One day, Kaya rushes home from school, excited to tell her little brother about Christmas. She learned about it at school. She tells him about the first Christmas, then tells him about Christmas trees, covered in light and colored balls and candy.

Little Takashi is quite taken with the idea of Christmas, especially the tree part. He longs for a Christmas tree of his very own. The next day, he and his dog scout the grounds around the house, but he can find no tree that fits Kaya's description of what a Christmas tree should look like.

Then his dog takes off running, right into grumpy Mr. Toda's yard. He knocks over a little potted fir tree. When Takashi spies the tree, he knows it would make a perfect Christmas tree. He tells his sister, but she tells him Mr. Toda's tree would be out of the question. She convinces Takashi to help her make decorations anyway. They can hang them on their old pine tree.

Takashi cannot stop thinking about Mr. Toda's fir tree, which has now been planted in the front yard. He and Kaya tell their parents about Christmas, and what a Christmas tree should look like. Takashi cannot stop daydreaming about the little fir tree. When the children go out into the cold to decorate the pine tree, they realize their decorations would only cover a single branch. The persimmon tree is too bare.

They cannot resist. They quietly step into their neighbor's dark yard, and decorate the little tree.

The next morning, Takashi steps outside to find Mr. Toda puzzling over his tree. The decorations are so beautiful, it seems to shine in the morning sun. Mr. Toda sees Takashi, and demands him to come over. He asks the boy if he knows who did this to his tree. "Kaya and I did it. It's... it's a Christmas tree." Mr. Toda has heard of Christmas trees. He isn't sure what to say. Just then, Kaya and her parents arrive in the yard. The parents bow and apologize, but cannot help smiling at the sight of the tree.

Mr. Toda is not angry. Indeed, it's his first Christmas tree, and he likes it. Kaya asks if she can show it to her friends. Mr. Toda nods, and the two children run off to call all the children of the village to see.

Mr. Toda tells Takashi and Kaya that they may trim the tree every year, if they would like. It can be their "forever Christmas tree."

The illustrations are lovely, and the story is long, but simple to follow. It's a lovely way to introduce children to the idea of how our beliefs and our Western traditions are not universal. It's also a nice way to show modern children that Japan isn't all anime and kawaii cute.

More tomorrow!

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  1. wow - this looks incredible! i love that idea (reluctantly a bit, ha) of not all Japanese stuff for kids being anime and kawaii. and how cool to see Christmas through the eyes of a culture that doesn't regularly celebrate it! i had NO idea about the KFC thing, that's wild!

    1. Talk about your American-inspired kitschmas, right?

      Mr. B and I were looking at these on the internet the other night:

  2. I never knew about this book! Thanks so much for sharing this little gem!!!!

  3. It is really cute! Great to read about Christmas in other cultures and places! Lovely illustrations!

  4. This looks such a beautiful book - I will make a mental note to look for a second-hand copy for next Christmas!


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