The highlight of my autumn was a two-week trip to Japan with my husband Will. We did many fun things, including walking down the “Green Carpet,” of the Tokyo International Film Festival for the premier of a Japanese “anime” of Magic Tree House.
We had a wonderful time meeting seven-year Mana Ashida, a leading child actress in Japan. Mana performs the voice of Annie in the anime.
The most unforgettable part of our journey, though, was traveling to the area of Sendai which was hit by the terrible earthquake and tsunami that destroyed 100 miles of the Japanese coastline on March 11, 2011. There we visited three elementary schools that had survived the devastation and met some of the bravest people we’ve ever met. Though the disaster had occurred only seven months earlier, all the students and teachers seemed to be trying very hard to “get back to normal.”
At one school, we talked with the principal who told us the story of leading all his students up to the roof of the school just as the tsunami was about to reach them. The teachers and children stayed on the roof all night – and then lived on the upper floors of the school for a whole month!
As we walked away from that school, I’ll never forget the sight of small boys in baseball uniforms running around a ballfield and girls laughing and riding unicycles in the schoolyard. After all the pain and loss they’d suffered, they were still acting like joyful kids.
Japan is an amazing country. The look of the Jack and Annie in the anime – and in the Magic Tree House books published there – is very different from the look of Jack and Annie in America. But the spirit of the characters seems totally in tune with what I imagine Jack and Annie to be. And even though I don’t speak Japanese, I thought the sound of Jack and Annie’s voices in the anime was perfect – and the soaring music was exactly the right sound to match their tree house adventures.
Everyone involved with the Magic Tree House books and the anime in Japan was so kind and generous to us. I think the spirit of Jack and Annie is very much alive there. The young readers in Japan live in a very different world from ours, but they are not unlike readers here. That’s the magic of the imagination. It can bring us all together, so that we can learn from the kindness and courage of others.