During the summer holidays six year old Rina is sent on her own to stay in the village in the countryside where her father had stayed as a child. From the village policeman's accent, I would guess that this is in the north east (where e.g. ka becomes ga). Like Japan's most famous children's writer, MIYAZAWA Kenji, Kashiwaba is from Iwate. Where Rina gets off the train, the village people are only half convinced that her destination, the valley of mist, exists, but following their uncertain directions, she sets off, and helped by her umbrella, which gets blown away so that she has to chase after it, she finds herself in a strange one street village.
The house where she will be staying belongs to a tiny old lady, who seems perpetually angry and delights in putting people on the wrong foot.
"What are you dawdling for? If there's one thing I hate, it's dawdlers," the voice she had heard earlier sounded angry.
Rina inched fearfully into the room. By the window there was a big flowery sofa, and on that sofa, like a black fleck, a little old woman was sitting.
The old woman did not look at Rina. As if she knew who it was without looking, she went on eating her biscuit and drinking tea.
Rina, not knowing what to do, stared at the old woman who was ignoring her. Finally, the old woman broke the silence, "Six years old and you still don't know how to greet a person."
"Uesugi Rina," Rina said, bowing, "Thank you for your kindness in having me."
"Who said anything about kindness?"
Anyone who stays in her house must work while they're there, she tells Rina. So Rina helps in the house or is sent to the different shops that make up the village. But this is no punishment, as they are all fascinating places run by different magicians. As she works Rina becomes more self confident and finds her true character. This theme is central to Spirited Away, of course, and also crops up in Taro the Dragon Boy; so perhaps it's a popular theme in Japan (or at least with Japanese parents).