So Far from the Bamboo Grove

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
So Far from the Bamboo Grove
First edition
AuthorYoko Kawashima Watkins
Cover artistLeo & Diane Dillon
CountryUnited States
GenreWar novel, Autobiographical novel
PublisherWilliam Morrow
Publication date
April 1986
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages192 pp
LC ClassPZ7.W3235 So 1994
Followed byMy Brother, My Sister, and I 

So Far from the Bamboo Grove is a semi-autobiographical novel written by Yoko Kawashima Watkins, a Japanese American writer.[1] It was originally published by Beech Tree in April 1986.

Watkins was awarded the Literary Lights for Children Award by Associates of the Boston Public Library in 1998 and the Courage of Conscience Award by the Peace Abbey.[2][3]

Watkins's book takes place in the last days of 35 years of Korea and Japan annexation. An eleven-year-old Japanese girl, Yoko Kawashima, whose father works for the Japanese government, must leave her home in Nanam, part of northern Korea, as her family escapes south to Seoul, then to Pusan, to return to Japan.


A Korean version of this book titled Yoko iyagi (요코이야기, "Yoko's tale") was published in 2005 and sold 4,000 copies of the first printing.[4] However, it was banned soon after.

A Japanese version of this book, Takebayashi haruka tōku : Nihonjin shōjo Yōko no sensō taikenki (竹林はるか遠く : 日本人少女ヨーコの戦争体験記, "Bamboo grove far distant: Japanese girl Yōko's war experience account") became available in June 2013.[5] As of June 7, 2013, the book was at No. 1 on the Amazon Best Sellers in Books in Japan.[6]


The story begins with Yoko Kawashima (and her mother, brother and sister) living in Nanam. Yoko and her family have to return to Japan and hide from both the Soviet military and the Koreans. Her brother, Hideyo, also tries to leave but he is separated from his family because he has to serve at an ammunition factory for six days a week. The family experiences a hard journey as they go to Seoul and to Pusan to take a ferry to Japan. In the journey, they saw many Japanese who were robbed of their property and slaughtered. Japanese women, from girls to adults, became targets of rape by some Koreans who preyed on the refugees.

When Yoko, her sister Ko, and her mother reached Fukuoka, the mother traveled to Kyoto,where she had family there. She then leaves for Aomori to seek help from their grandparents. She goes back to Yoko and her sister bringing sad news that both of their grandparents are dead. Their mother dies on the same day, leaving Yoko and Ko waiting for their brother, Hideyo. Their mother's last words were to keep their wrapping cloth, and that makes Yoko curious. Yoko later finds out that there was money in a hidden pocket in the wrapping cloth. Yoko is now in a new school, and there is an essay contest with a cash prize that Yoko enters and wins. Her old friend Corporal Matsumura seeks out Yoko, asking if she is the same girl that was put in the paper for winning a contest. Hideyo faints at the doorstep of a Korean family. Luckily for him, his life was spared and the family allow him to stay. The family sadly bids Hideyo farewell and he finally reaches Pusan where he finds a message that Yoko had left him. After sailing across to Japan, he sees scriptures of his name and Yoko and Ko's address. While asking directions from a local, he is spotted by Yoko and they are reunited.

Kawashima also wrote a sequel titled My Brother, My Sister, and I.


When this book was published in Korea as Yoko iyagi (요코 이야기, "Yoko's tale") in 2005, the sales were brisk partly due to a sales copy that said "why was this book banned in China and Japan?", but there was not much discernable social uproar about it.[7][8]

There had even been positive reviews written about it, accepting the book as delivering an anti-war, and even anti-colonial message.[9][10]

The situation completely changed in 2007, when it became a target of intense debate in Korea and in the United States. This development was triggered by the protests lodged by Korean-American students in the Greater Boston area in September, 2006.[11]

Boston area[edit]

The issue came to head after 2006, when 13 parents in a Greater Boston community urged the book be removed from the English curriculum of Dover-Sherborn Middle School, resulting in the convening of a schools committee which recommended a suspension of the book in November 2017.[12] The book was later reinstated at the school, to be used in a modified curriculum.[13]

The Boston Globe recapped the parents' perception of the book as being "racist and sexually explicit". Both views were articulated by one parent in particular. The rape of Japanese refugee women by "Korean men" was disturbing, and he worried such a depiction could impart a stereotyped view on Korean men's treatment towards women to impressionable young minds.[14][12] Broaching the subject of rape in the classrooms in this age group was inappropriate as well.[a][12]

A Boston councilman[b] also weighed in, stating that the Korean minority were being portrayed as the "bad guys", even though Japan was the one who had occupied Korea.[12] Given in narrative from the standpoing of the Japanese woman turned refugee at the end of World II, the book was felt as a distortion of the Korean experience under the colonial rule by Japan.[15]

The policies of the colonial rule that went unmentioned in the story included military draft and conscription of Koreans, as well as the killing and wounding of thousands of Koreans by the occupiers.[12]

Staunch supporters of the book and author were among teachers and parents teachers and parents, and they maintained that the book was an effective teaching tool and spoke out against censorship.[12] Even though vote was unanimous for suspending the book, the head of the panel acknowledged that the book could be taught in principle, if the issues could be addressed in the classroom, but they made the judgment call that the additional time made this impracticable.[12] And the ban was later revoked,[13] as already stated.

Other schools[edit]

Even prior to the Dover-Sherborn Middle School's decision to suspend the book, there have been other challenges tracked by The American Library Association,[12] some of which have been successful in removing the book from the curriculum and reading lists. Rye Country Day School in New York had acted swiftly by banning the book in September, 2006.[13]

One Catholic school and one private school, both in Massachusetts removed the book from their curricula in 2007.[13] A teacher at the latter[c] wrote an opinion on the book which appeared in The English Journal.[16]

The school board of Montgomery County, Maryland struck the book off its recommended list in March, 2007.[17]

Author expresses contrition[edit]

The author said that she had no intention to disregard the history of Korea and apologized for any hard feelings felt by Korean readers. She stated her intention was to portray her childhood experiences in a softer way for young readers. She denied the accusations made by the Korean newspapers.[18][19]

Accusations of fabrication[edit]

The Korean media has characterized her book as "autobiographical fiction". It has believed there are several points of historical inaccuracies in her account. Certain "Korean historians" (unspecified) charge that some of her narrated incidents are imagined. However, the author insists she wrote her experience as she remembered it.[18]

U. S. bombers[edit]

Watkins gives in her book an account of sighting U. S. B-29 bombers (identified as that type by Mr. Enomoto). This has been characterized as suspect, since according to historians, there were no bombing in the area in July or August 1945. To which, the author retorted that she did not go so far as to say these airplanes bombard her hometown of Nanam (Rannam).[18]

In fact, U.S. bombers were flying missions to the general area of Korea by this time, according to Yoshio Morita's book on evacuation from Korea: "From July 12 [1945] onward, American B-29's came almost every other day and regularly around 11:AM assaulting Rajin and Ungi [ja] in Northeast Korea, dropping many mines into the harbor".[d][20]

As for the airplane attack on the train Yoko was aboard, although she never identifies the aircraft as American,[21] the media cast suspicion on this passage as anachronisic, since "American military did not bomb any part of North Korea during the time frame of the story".[22] The train was stalled by the attack 45 miles before reaching Seoul.[23]

Korean communist presence[edit]

Also, when pressed, she admitted she could not identify the armed uniformed militia that her family encountered as definitively "Korean Communists",[18] although that was the label she has given to her posing threat throughout the book.[24] She explained that this had been the assumption she had made after hearing that the areas left behind in her trail had been overrun by communists. The book, in a different context,[e] describes the mother telling Yoko that Koreans had formed what is known as an "Anti-Japanese Communist Army".[f][25]

Harvard historian Carter Eckert had considered these points, and stated the only organized Korean "Communist Army" around this time would have been the guerillas led by Soviet-trained Kim Il Sung, who "did not arrive in Korea until early September 1945", but there might have been "local Korean communist groups" present.[26]

Actually however, there was already a report that on August 8,[g] that a Korean contingent of 80-men strong was spotted with the Soviet Army, crossing the border into To-ri (土里; Japanese:Dori).[h][27] It was only a short distance by speedboat across the Tumen River for them to arrive from Russia to this town.[27][i]

"Korean Communist soldiers" were bereft of their uniforms for Yoko, her sister, and mother to use as disguise in the book.[j][24] Some media coverage gave a forced reading saying this term can only have applicable meaning as soldiers of the "Korean People's Army", not established until 1948, so that Yoko was describing uniforms nonexistent at the time.[22]

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ He also criticized the teaching protocol for using this material without seeking parental consent.
  2. ^ Sam Yoon. To him, the Dover parents who were not actually his constituents, as the Kiang & Tang (2009) study noted.
  3. ^ Friends Academy, North Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
  4. ^ Quote in Japanese:「[二十年]七月十二日以後、沖縄を基地とするアメリカのB29は、ほとんど隔日に、しかもきまって午後十一時ごろ、東北鮮の羅津、雄基に来襲し、そのつど多数の機雷を港内に投下していた。それ以前には"」
  5. ^ In relation to the army eminent domaining some farmers' lands to expand its hospital.
  6. ^ "Anti-Japanese Communist Army" (kōnichi kyōsangun, 抗日共産軍) has been used elsewhere to designate the China's People's Liberation Army. The Japanese of course would not dignify using Communist China's official name as the people's army.
  7. ^ The day Russia formally declared war on Japan
  8. ^ They group assaulted a police station in To-ri, and killed two Japanese officers.
  9. ^ This town was about 60 miles north of Nanam, where Yoko lived.
  10. ^ The locations is several nights' walk closer to Seoul than where their train derailed.


  1. ^ Silvey, Anita (1995). Children's books and their creators. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 351. ISBN 978-0-395-65380-7.
  2. ^ "Literary Lights for Children". The Boston Public Library. Archived from the original on 2014-01-07.
  3. ^ "Courage of Conscience Award Recipients". The Peace Abbey. Archived from the original on 2014-06-10.
  4. ^ `한국인 日소녀 강간` 美교재 국내 출간 (in Korean). 매경닷컴. 2007-01-17.
  5. ^ 竹林はるか遠く―日本人少女ヨーコの戦争体験記 (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2013-12-04.
  6. ^ ベストセラー [Best Sellers] (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 2013-06-07.
  7. ^ Lee (H. K.) (2014), p. 38.
  8. ^ Kim, Michael (December 2010). "The Lost Memories of Empire and the Korean Return from Manchuria, 1945-1950: Conceptualizing Manchuria in Modern Korean History" (PDF). Seoul Journal of Korean Studies. 23 (11): 195–223.
  9. ^ Choi, Hyeon-mi (최현미) (2005-05-09). 日소녀가 본 日패망 풍경 : ‘요코 이야기’… 식민정책 비판 등 담아 [A japanese girl's glimpse of defeated Japan: 'Yoko's Tale' includes criticism of colonial policy]. Minwa Ilbo.
  10. ^ Review in Yonhap News (March 3, 2005), cited by Kim (M.), p. 197, n5
  11. ^ Lee (H. K.) (2014), p. 38–39.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Kocian, Lisa (Nov 12, 2006). "Ban book from class, panel says". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 2012-10-22.
  13. ^ a b c d Park Chung-a (Jan 23, 2007). "US: More American schools stop textbook falsifying Korea". Korea Times. Archived from the original on 2012-03-22.
  14. ^ Exact language in Kocian 's piece in the Boston Globe: " will be the students' first exposure to Asian history"; and "You'll notice throughout the book these acts are committed by Korean men -- it is a pretty disturbing connotation of a group of people",... "The first impression you imprint in a child's mind is typically very hard to erase".
  15. ^ Kiang & Tang (2009), pp. 88–89.
  16. ^ Walach, Stephen (January 2008), "So Far from the Bamboo Grove: Multiculturalism, Historical Context, and Close Reading" (PDF), The English Journal, 97 (3) JSTOR 30046824
  17. ^ "Korean Americans Win Victory Over WWII Novel". Chosunilbo. March 19, 2007.
  18. ^ a b c d "Controversial author stands by story of her war ordeal". JoongAng Daily. February 2, 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-07-18.
  19. ^ 왜곡 아니다 … 한국인에 상처준 건 죄송 (in Korean). JOINS. February 3, 2007. Archived from the original on 2009-09-09.
  20. ^ Morita (1964), p. 28–29, possibly from cited source, Kitamura, Tomekichi/Ryūkichi, Razu dasshutsu no omoide 羅津脱出の思い出. Kitamura was buyun (府尹, 부윤) or city magistrate of Razu. (in Japanese)
  21. ^ Watkins (1994), Chapter 2.
  22. ^ a b "Korean Parents Angry over "Distorted" U.S. School Book". Chosunilbo. January 18, 2007.
  23. ^ Cite error: The named reference chapter02 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  24. ^ a b Watkins (1994), Chapter 3.
  25. ^ Watkins (1994), p. 9.
  26. ^ Eckert, Carter (December 16, 2006). "A Matter of Context". The Boston Globe. Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 2009-09-10.
  27. ^ a b Morita (1964), pp. 28–29.