The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

special ability
multiple personality

Exciting adventures continue to unfold in this delightful fantastical yet historical world as social and political changes expand, technology explodes, and two very unusual children grow up.

Claire Youmans first went to Japan in 1992 and was immediately captivated. After years of travel and study, she continues to be charmed and amazed by a fascinating history and a culture that's both endearingly quirky and entirely unique. She is a retired lawyer who now lives in Tokyo. Her family, including her daughter and two grandsons, live in Seattle, USA.

In 2014, she started Tales of the Meiji Era with The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy's unparalleled blend of historical fantasy in the first book of the series, Coming Home. She continues exploring the combination of history and folklore to share her love and fascination with a very different country and culture.

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy is created by Claire Youmans, an EGlobal Creative Publishing signed author.

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Chapter 1
The Land of Make-Believe resembles our planet Earth in most ways, but doesn't resemble it at all in some far more interesting ones. In the part of that land that resembles the Japan of long ago, in the mountains of Kyushu, not too far from what would now be modern Hakata, lived a man called Hachibei. He was a proud man, proud of his skills in his trade, proud of his reputation for good work and fair dealing, and though he seemed gruff, he possessed an honest, generous and loving heart. He loved his wife, Chizuyo, more than anything else. Chizuyo, a gentle woman, was soft in manner and wise in mind. She knew Hachibei worked hard to be provider and protector for his family, and she knew how badly he felt. Now that Lunar New Year's approached, food was scarce. Things were changing, and taxes had gone up, leaving no money to buy raw materials for their work as weavers and hat makers, no one to buy what they made, and not even enough money to buy food for a traditional New Year's feast or for offerings for their Buddhist altar. She said nothing about this, but instead lavished him with love, letting him know that he meant more to her than any riches. But she could not help but let slip her sadness at the only real lack in their life together, a sadness that he shared: they did not have a child, and they both hoped for one soon. On the morning of New Year's Eve, Hachibei looked around the empty house and suddenly thought of something he could do to at least give them some kind of New Year's celebration, a happy start for a better year. He quickly gathered sedge and straw, and began making simple hats, the kind worn by peasants in the fields to protect from sun, or by anyone who wanted temporary protection against snow and rain. Such hats did not last long, no matter how well they were made. "Husband? What are you up to?" Chizuyo asked as she returned from the well with water for tea. Expensive though it was, they still had a bit of that! "I'm making hats," he said. "Obviously." Chizuyo built up the fire and put the kettle on to boil. "And to what end, please?" "To sell, of course," Hachibei replied. "These are easy to make, and it looks like snow will fall later. If I take them to the village over the mountains, where it's market day, I can sell them and we can have a proper New Year's dinner and perhaps a little more." "What an excellent idea you have," Chizuyo replied. She poured boiling water on the loose tea in the pot and waited for it to steep. Hachibei finished fifteen hats before he left for the neighboring village. He carried them stacked atop a pole. When he got to the market square, he saw few people about. Snow fell softly, like icing sugar. The people he saw mostly already had hats. Though he worked diligently, he only sold ten hats, netting just enough money to buy some delicious smoked locusts as a special treat, and some staples, but not enough for a real New Year's feast. He sighed as he started home. He felt like he'd failed. At the top of the mountain pass, in the scary Narayama Ocean of Trees where many things, both good and evil, dwelt, a stream, frozen in winter, crossed the valley. At the end nearest Hachibei's village, close to where the stream curved around a meadow before it crossed the road, a group of Jizo stood, covered with snow. Depending on who one asks, Jizo are statues that can represent the spirit of the land, or commemorate someone who has died, or represent the Buddhist force of good that protects the common people. When he reached the statues, Hachibei stopped and shook the snow off his shoulders. Although he knew in his head that the Jizo were just stone statues, his kind and generous heart was touched by the sight of the Jizo under the snow. "You look cold," he said. He dusted off each of the five large Jizo, and on the head of each he placed one of his remaining hats. But he was one short! The smallest Jizo, this one the size of a child, had no hat. Remembering his desire for a child of his own, Hachibei took off his own hat, which was a fabric hat that tied like a scarf behind his head, and placed it on the head of the Jizo child. "Hah," he said, shaking his head at his own foolishness. Why would stone Jizo statues care if they were warm or not, or protected from the snow or not? "Well," he said as he picked up the empty pole and started through the steadily falling snow for home, "at least you look warmer now." *** Chizuyo worried about Hachibei. It was dark and he'd been gone for hours. He should have been home by There he was, coming up the path, holding the bare pole, a small lantern bobbing to show him the way. Perhaps he'd had success after all! She built up the fire and put water on for tea, and also started rice from the little bit they had remaining. "Husband." She smiled as he came inside. "Welcome home!" "Wife," he said, nodding, as he sat and accepted a cup of hot tea, "I failed you." He told her of his travels and handed her what he'd managed to purchase. "This is a hardly failure," Chizuyo said. "We have smoked locusts with rice for tonight and tomorrow, we have each other, and we have your generous heart. Unselfish kindness is a great gift, indeed." And so they ate, talked, and eventually slept while the snow fell quietly around them. New Year's Day dawned bright and cold. The landscape stretched out sparkling white before them as far as they could see. "Look, Wife," Hachibei said, "There are tracks on our path." "They don't look like ordinary tracks," Chizuyo observed. "And no one came here." "I'll see." Hachibei jumped off the porch onto the area they kept clear to reach the firewood stored beneath the house, and followed the path to the other side. "Chizuyo!" he called. "Come here!" Grabbing a wrap for herself and another for Hachibei, Chizuyo took the steps to the ground and rounded the corner. Her jaw dropped. Hachibei stood beside a huge pile of goods, grinning. Chizuyo ran to join him, laughing, for this was amazing! She saw huge bundles of rice and sacks of beans. Next to those stood crocks of pickled vegetables, miso paste, a large bag of the finest tea, and even a rare and nearly priceless sack of sugar. There were baskets of winter vegetables carrots, cabbage, daikon, mushrooms, onions and more. Chizuyo dropped to her knees in the fresh snow to examine the contents of the largest basket. "Hachibei! Husband!" Chizuyo turned and looked up at him, her eyes brimming with tears as she held up a tiny being. "Look! It's a gift from the Jizo for your kindness, like the old stories say! It's our daughter!" "A gift, certainly, all of this, and I am more grateful than I can say, but what you are holding is not our daughter, but our fortune," Hachibei replied practically. "It's a toki!" A toki is a beautiful big bird also called a crested Ibis that sheds wonderful feathers humans can use in making beautiful fabrics and hats. "No, Hachibei. Our daughter!" Chizuyo chastised. "Look again." Hachibei looked, startled. The infant toki was not merely a toki, but a magic toki that had the ability, when loved, to become a child, and this toki was already assuming human form. Hachibei reached out and tiny talons no, fingers wrapped around his own. His heart was hers, even if she had feathers on her head where humans would have hair. Hachibei looked at Chizuyo, his heart overflowing with love and gratitude, his normally gruff voice tenderness itself. "Can we name our daughter Azuki?"

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