Only the manner is Japanese, and the material borders on the artsy-effete: A plum tree in the emperor's garden has to be cut down; ""The perfect garden would be perfect no longer."" But the dignity and serenity of the physical presentation embody both the lost harmony of the garden and the Japanese aesthetic, as commonly conceived, while the story is distilled to a few expressive essentials. To console the emperor, an equally beautiful tree is sought--equally gnarled, with starlike blooms. The one chosen belongs to painter Ukiyo, his wife Tanaka, and their small son Musuko; ""But most of all, the plum tree was the home of Musuko's friend, the nightingale."" They must part with the tree, they know; before it is taken away, however, Musuko ties a scroll to one of its branches. And when the emperor finds the decorated scroll and reads its message--""At the long day's end, when the nightingale flies home, what shall I tell her?""--he returns the plum tree to Musuko. First, though, Ukiyo must paint the imperial garden. ""The death of my plum tree has reminded me that no garden can last forever. One day the peach trees, the pines, and even the bamboos will be no more. But your painting, Ukiyo, will be a lasting reminder of this garden's perfection."" In fact, Japanese gardens are compositions whose elements are constantly replaced--but the resolution, giving preeminence to life-affections, will sit right with children. Grave and rather lovely--without ponderousness or artifice.