The book “So Far from the Bamboo Grove”

sOn Korean portal sites, Daum, Naver, Yoko Kawashima Watkins’s book “So Far from the Bamboo Grove, 요코이야기” became one of the most search term these days. The book narrates story based on the author’s life, focuses on the harrowing experiences of an 11-year-old Japanese girl and her family at the end of Japanese-occupied colonial Korea era.  It describes Korean as abusing and sexually assaulting virtuous Japanese.  The book is being used in English literature class in one of  U.S. middle schools and is drawing concerns from Koreans and Korean-Americans.  The Marmot’s Hole already posted up collective stories about it. 

I have not read the book so I do not know how the book really describes Korean and how much it is biased historical backgrounds.  Without a doubt, there were evil Koreans as book describes right after total surrender by Imperial Japan and for the handover period of sovereignty.  But it is for sure that the book would create a wrong perception on Korean or Korean history to those teen students without prior knowledge about social and historical background of the region.  On the other hand, it is just an overreaction to launch “active government-level action” as a the consul general in Boston addressed.    It’s totally up to those parents of Dover-Sherborn Regional School what they teaching their kids. 

However, According to English Dong A Ilbo, the Dover-Sherborn Regional School Committee in Boston voted unanimously to overturn the decision to ban the book in question from classes. The Dover-Sherborn middle school cited that not allowing the book could be considered as censorship and they received positive response from students who had read the book.  In response, the Korean parents said, “The decision was changed by opposition from English teachers and parents of other ethnic groups.” They are preparing to file a federal lawsuit to settle this matter. 

It is also interesting that Korean edition was published under the title of “Yoko’s Story” in 2005 by Munhakdongne Publishing Co Ltd. Korean edition of the book was published, by Mun Hak Dong Ne, two years ago.  The book has been published neither in China nor in Japan. Munhakdongne claimed when it published the book, “The book couldn’t be published in China due to strong anti-Japanese sentiment and in Japan because it contains critical remarks the author’s mother made about the Japanese government’s provocation of the war.” And there were positive book reviews made by main media, namely ChoChoongDong (Chosun Ilbo, ChoonAng Ilbo, and Dong-A Ilb).  Obviously, most of upset comments by Korean netizen on portal site’s threads made directly towards these media.

Korean and Japanese are all victims of imperialism, colonialism of modern history.  History could be writing on favor of country’s view point but just because they all have skeletons in their closets does not mean one can distort history. 

History is undeniable and unchangeable.

And My exact sentiments to Professor Carter Eckert’s Opinion on the Boston Globe.

 ……But context and balance are important. While Yoko’s story is compelling as a narrative of survival, it achieves its powerful effect in part by eliding the historical context in which Yoko and her family had been living Korea. That context, simply put, was a 40-year record of harsh colonial rule in Korea, which reached its apogee during the war years of 1937-45, when Yoko was growing up. While some Koreans fared better than others, many were conscripted for forced labor and sexual slavery to serve the Japanese imperial war machine, while the colonial authorities simultaneously promoted a program of intensive, coercive cultural assimilation that sought to erase a separate Korean identity on the peninsula.….But Watkins’s book may not serve that purpose well, especially if it is taught simply as a heroic personal narrative of survival, without adequate provision of historical context. ….

<UPDATE> Author, Yoko Kawashima Watkins, defends memoir on Korea, apologizes for furor.  

Yoko has become a symbol for the problems between Japan and Korea,” said John D’Auria, principal at Wellesley Middle School, where Watkins’s book has been taught for 13 years.Her award-winning memoir, taught in many middle schools in Greater Boston and around the United States, is about her family’s harrowing escape from Korea in 1945, when Japanese families like hers were ousted after 35 years of occupation. But Korean-Americans and at least three South Korean consulates in the United States contend that her book, told through the eyes of an 11-year-old, distorts history

“I am extremely sorry for causing the commotion over ‘So Far from the Bamboo Grove,’ “ she said. Watkins, who describes herself as a peace activist, told the audience that she is willing to call her publisher to see whether a new foreword with more history can be written for the next edition


Agnes Ahn of Dover , one of the Korean-American parents who sought to have the book removed from sixth- grade classrooms, referred to D’Auria’s remarks as propaganda. While Yoko and her family struggled for a short time, said Ahn, Koreans suffered for 35 years under Japanese occupation.“How can you say her story is more important,” she asked. A chorus of teachers answered, “We’re not.”

Read the whole article and also Japan Probe posted related links.


19 Responses to “The book “So Far from the Bamboo Grove””

  1. lookingreflection Says:

    Thanks for posting about interesting articles.

    Korean and Japanese are all victims of imperialism, colonialism of modern history. History could be writing on favor of country’s view point but just because they all have skeletons in their closets does not mean one can distort history.

    Very well put, JiMong!

    Since Koreans are minorities even in Asia and not as powerful as China and Japan, therefore history has been distorted a lot in the west and the east throughout decades. Very often, in books and movies in the west, I saw sentiments of Japan being portrayed as a victim instead of offending imperial kingdom during World War II… I usually pointed them out to my friends, “well, what if Nazis were portrayed this way…”

    (To clarify, I have no anti-german or anti-Japanese feeling but, I’m AGAINST distorting history by powerful organization for their own benefits.)

    Another thing to remember is thatl, frankly, history is written by winners in the present. I hope to keep my naive sense to believe that the truth will surface one day…

  2. lookingreflection Says:

    Oh, I just wanted to pointing out that distorting history in favor of country’s view point is happening through out the world IMHO, too

  3. JiMong Says:

    Totally agree with your points. History is very subjective, IMO, yet the truth of facts and events should not be distorted at all.

    My understanding is that Koreans and Korean Americans (specifically in Boston area) are upset as the book contains inadequate context of the period and events. But one thing we need to keep in mind that this book is a historical novel or a fiction that typical storytelling of imagined events and stands in contrast to non-fiction which makes factual claims about reality. Even, TV Series Dea Jang Gum could be put as similar historical fictional works in extend. And I think, Korean media should not use this book or a portion of book to stir a pot of nationalism as it could be another distorted view point. Without a dout, It would be a really nice touchy novel with a story of family love and life as Amazon reviews if this book was written based on correct period and historical events.

  4. Dominique Says:

    Not sure if anyone even realizes this but it is hopeless to even hope to have a mature rational discussion with Koreans. Just look…they have already totally destroyed and ruined the reviews of this book over at Amazon, and it looks like they are up to the same repulsive tactics of spamming here as well. Needless to say, Koreans cannot stand to be criticized and will not stand for any sympathetic portrayal of Japan. But then again, such stupid and immature behavior should be expected from a country in which double standards and a jealous hatred of all things Japanese is the norm.

    If it isn’t already obvious by now, there are at most 3 or 4 Korean posters who are spamming the comments section by posting under multiple IDs. This type of idiotic and immature behavior is very typical of Koreans.

  5. T_Whitney Says:

    First of all, I would like to say that I am a middle school teacher who has spent 8 years of my life teaching in both Korea and Japan. Of course althoug this does not qualify me as someone who is a first hand victim of any of the experiences in WWII, but someone who has a fairly high understanding of the difficult relationship between the two countries stemming from this very sad time in history. It is without a doubt that no colonial rule can ever be justified as being done out of benevolence. In that respect, although there are elderly Koreans who probably can look back at this era with some degree of nostalgic aura, it was nonetheless a period of hardship for many others and brutal treatment without a doubt. However, this is not the purpose of this book.

    Seeing how so many Korean and kyopo commenters here have vented their anger, frustration, and dare I say “fear of losing their victimhood status” with the release of this book in the somewhat comical flood of caustic comments below, I am somewhat disturbed with exactly what it is about this book that is fueling their anger which seems to be so maniacal in the way a spurned woman would lash out in jealousy against her rival.

    I believe that the reason stems from the subconscious feeling among Koreans that no Japanese, regardless of whether or not he/she had anything to do with the Korean occupation, deserves any sympathy for any harm done against them. Although many Koreans might disagree with me on this, I know from having had so many conversations with Koreans after having been shocked and appalled at the attitudes of Koreans (some of them even being the parents of children who I taught) cheering and clapping when they heard that over 5000 people died in the Kobe earthquake in 1995 or expressing that the first thing they wish Kim Jong Il to do is to bomb Japan. When I asked them if they would not feel sorry for anyone, let alone women and little children, who was born after the war, I did not receive a single response from any Korean who said they would be. As one young college-educated student expressed, “more dead Japanese would be a blessing to Korea since it would be one step closer to the dream goal of every “righteous Korean citizen” to wipe out the entire nation of Japan.” Mind you this was a supposedly “college-educated student.” Needless to say, I was speechless beyond horror. What surprised me more is that other than some elderly Koreans who had lived abroad for the most part of their lives, I could not find any other person who found such an attitude to be absolutely repulsive. Even so called professional and educated members of Korean society expressed to me that it would be great if every single Japanese person would die a slow and horrible death to pay for the “crimes of the past.”

    The subway drawings made by elementary school students depicting bloody and violent images of Koreans killing Japanese last year that made headlines in many foreign blogs is just the tip of the iceberg. I realize now that the hatred/jealousy that Koreans feel toward Japan goes beyond the normal emotions of anger that we know. I feel that it is more of an issue of Koreans feeling as though they are always getting the “short end of the stick” compared to Japan which has made strides in the world to become the second largest economy and has a history of brutal colonization. Actually, what one Korean told me spoke volumes about what gets them riled up so much. He said that if Korea were able to kill at least 3 million Japanese and surpass them in GDP, then they would not care so much about bringing up the past injustices or even the comfort women. As unsettling as this message was to hear, I felt as if I finally knew what Koreans wanted to achieve. Of course they, like any other people, wish to have justice and see the criminals get what they deserve. When I explained to them that while some of the criminals might have gotten off free with clemency from the US government, Japan suffered and paid a huge price by having two entire cities bombed into oblivion. But what matters more to them than “justice” is revenge. This is the bottom line.

    I know that perhaps my opinion might elicit some ire responses from the Korean posters here, but I am certain of my intuition and reason after having spent so many hours and countless discussions with both sides to find out whether or not reconciliation between the two sides is possible. Unfortunately, after seeing the huge flood of the one star rating posts from the Korean spammers who seem to be more concerned with making sure that absolutely no Japanese will ever be deserving of sympathy regardless of whether he/she is a victim or not.

    Although, this very extreme emotional retaliation can be understandable if applied to someone who directly affected oneself, the danger of carrying this attitude is that this same attitude can be used to dismiss any potential crime against a Japanese by a Korean. In other words, perhaps there are many more like Yoko who suffered at the hands of Koreans..perhaps even thousands. However, they will never get a chance to voice their story because they will need to first publish a book entitled “Even Though I Was Raped and Mutilated by a Korean Soldier, I Want to Make Sure That All Western Readers Know We Japanese Were More Terrible Than Any Korean” as permission to tell her story.

    However, I really do not see why this is necessary as this is not the purpose of the book. Why this single book can rile up so many Korean readers is quite puzzling when you stop to consider that the number of books published which acknowledge Koreans as victims of brutal Japanese rule outnumber books showing Japanese as victims by the thousands. If the Japanese are not complaining about Koreans having their right to vicimhood is so many books, movies ,and TV show, why can’t the Koreans allow Japanese to tell their story as well in this just one book? Or is it more the fact that Koreans just do not want to see Japanese portrayed in a positive light or as possible victims themselves?

    I really wonder what Koreans would say to my late father-in-law, an honest and hardworking farmer who did not even lift a finger to anyone in his life who was known for his generosity, big heart and openness to guests from all over the world. I really wonder if Koreans, upon seeing him in his wheelchair and deformed ear suffering from renal disease as a result of excessive radiation incurred in his youth, would say to his face..”You deserve no sympathy. You deserve this miserable body because your country was worse to us.” My father in-law was an atomic bomb survivor from Nagasaki who passed away at the young age of 65 five years ago.

    I certainly hope not. I certainly hope that Koreans do not think that before anyone could shed a tear at his funeral, it was necessary for us to make an announcement to everyone at his funeral that Koreans suffered more at the hands of the Japanese and that Japan is such a bad nation compared to Korea.

    I pray we move forward.

  6. salamander Says:

    T_Whitney makes an excellent point. If anything, the obnoxious postings by the Korean supporters in Amazon have only disgusted us non-Asians and shown us how rude, insecure, and hysterically immature Korean internet culture is. I am not sure what the ultimate goal of those Koreans are, but if they continue to spam the online reviews of this book by posting idiotic 2 line comments consistently spewing the same rude comments like “..Japan is bad, Korea is always good” or “…this book is garbage because it is a lie”, etc. then all they are doing is drawing more neutral people such as myself and many others to sympathize more with the book and its author and becoming more turned off with dislike and contempt for anything the Korean contingency wishes to express. It would be one thing if the Koreans could actually come up with an intelligent and mature response which shows objectivity and reason. Instead we are treated with writing that a 4 year old child would write in an attempt to ridicule his older brother to whom he feels jealousy.

    Or maybe that basically is what Korean culture is like. If so, I do not find it surprising at all that Korea has such a bad reputation in the world for supplying the most annoying and childish internet spammers/trolls in the world.

  7. Hyun Ah Says:

    I know that I am probably going to earn the wrath and ire from fellow KAs as well as natives for voicing my honest opinion but nevertheless I wanted to get this off my chest.

    The reason for this is because I see from reading a comment from one of the reviewers above that this discussion is leading down a dangerous slope with regards to the level of credibility for which we KA’s and Koreans will be judged when it comes to any matter that deals with history or national pride. It’s bad enough that now that the internet has made it possible to view not only the “manufactured” marketing campaign for nations but also the ugly sides as well too. In the past, Korea was able to get away with the “luxury” of having been an obvious victim and post-war stellar example of triumph/hard work success story to which nothing bad could be said about the nation. Everyone loved us Koreans and had only good things to say since we were only a third world nation. However, now that Koreans have finally achieved first world-status, it seems as though many of them are surprised and disappointed to find out that being a first world nation is not all about prestige and garnering more respect from others. As a first world nation, it is also necessary to hang one’s dirty laundry and admit that we are not perfect or at least that we are capable of wrong. I think this is what bothers many Koreans in that they wish to have all the good benefits of becoming a first world nation, but they do not want to face the negatives or responsibilities of being criticized and judged.

    Thus, it is common to see Koreans often being the culprits of the somewhat comical but at the same time sad practice flooding of internet webboards with nationalistic and anti-foreign-tinged (especially with regards to Japan) posts such as the ones seen here. I actually hope that non-Koreans can take pity on Koreans by realizing that what seems to be a form of childish behavior stems from a deep hurt and feelings/fears of inferiority as a result of our sad past. However, I hope that we Koreans will somehow reach a day where we feel confident and strong enough to where this type of crooning for sympathy will no longer be necessary for Koreans to feel secure about themselves. If so, then such childish behavior as seen on the internet boards will stop.

  8. 56ssad Says:

    You know what really is amazing is how so many people who disagree with this book or hate Japan (I am assuming that they are all Korean) are so quick and hasty in trashing this book just because of a minor description in the book of a rape by a Korean guerrilla on the author, a Japanese girl. However, I can tell you with 100% confidence that none of these people have even read the book. If they actually did try to make the effort and read the book, they would realize that this facet hardly makes up more than just 1 page out of 200 and is in now way the driving theme of the book. Oh, sorry…I forgot. The Koreans would never want to do that of course because that would actually entail using one’s brain. They prefer to take one incident mentioned in the book (which by the way could have happened…no distortion or lie about that unless Koreans think that they are genetically superior beings who can never rape or commit crime) and throw it way out of proportion and claim that the author’s purpose is to deny Japanese wrongdoing and blame it on the Koreans. How ridiculous. Using their logic, then the Mark Twain’s entire purpose of writing “Huckleberry Finn” was to show how southern whites never did anything wrong to black slaves and that actually slaves were always bad and whites were always kind. Idiotic thinking which shows that these people never even bothered to read the book or their level of reading comprehension and literary genius is so low, even a 7th grader can understand literary themes better than them.

    The reason why this type of dismissal is so stupid is because if one were to actually read the book, you would be amazed at what the author actually writes. There are two entire chapters devoted to describing how the two girls were blessed by the kind generosity and protection that an elderly Korean farmer couple offered to the girls as they were retreating. Furthermore, there are so many references about how brutal and domineering the Japanese puppet state rule was in Korea and how this prevented Yoko’s mother from calling on for help during the unstable state of Korea after the war.

    Gee, criticism of iron fisted rule by the Kempeitai…praise about the bravery and kindness shown by a Korean couple….yet, these Korean “readers” just take the the incident of a Korean soldier raping a girl and say that the book’s main theme is about how Japan was a victim of Korea and how Korea is all to blame? Ridiculous.

    This idiocy shown by the troll posters is so great that I now realize why no real intelligent people are leaving comments on the boards and it is just the trolls posting the one star ratings and leaving stupid one sentence comments which clearly show that they do not care to read or understand the main purpose of the book which is to tell a sad tale of tragedy..nothing more and nothing less. It seems to me that what is more important to them is not to understand but to find any possible means to demonize Japan and use it as a way to deride and make negative comments about Japanese.

    If that is the case, then there is nothing more to be said except that I wonder if these same people would tell Nick Berg’s parents that they never be allowed to publish a book or story about their son’s tragic beheading at the hands of brutal, murdering Islamic terrorists. After all, Nick was an American and America was wrong in invading Iraq. That means, Nick’s murder should never be sympathized. Better yet, these people would probably say that a story about Nick’s murder, or that of Kim Sun Il, was a lie and fabrication.

    Yeah, I thought so. Double standard.

  9. JiMong Says:

    All your points are taken!
    Thanks. Dominique, T_Whitney, salamander, Hyun Ah, and 56ssad.

  10. 56ssad Says:

    Thank you JiMong! And I apologize if it seems like I am being too hard on all Koreans, but I am not! I just dont want all Koreans to be labeled in a bad way just because of the action of one or two trolls who are posting under multiple IDs!

  11. Florian Says:

    I found your blog via google by accident and have to admit that youve a really interesting blog 🙂
    Just saved your feed in my reader, have a nice day 🙂

  12. JiMong Says:

    Hi Florian,

  13. 33word Says:

    While everyone is busy defending the book’s author and basically trashing the majority of Koreans who disagree with varying degrees of the book’s content its worth mentioning that Japan still has yet to acknowledge any wrong doing, let alone recognize the horrors of units such as 731 (among other such units). It is also worth noting that important facts behind the book have been brought into question, such as another fleeing members account which seems to squarely contradict Bamboo Garden’s author’s account. At a minimum, if it is true that the book lies, particularly about core events, then yes, it should be withdrawn or at least placed on the fiction shelf, not hawked as non-fiction. Now, I am not Korean, I am just some crazy Italian American guy who would like to see “factually correct material” taught to my kids. I hope that’s ok on this site.

  14. JiMong Says:

    Hi 33word,

    Thanks for visiting my site and for sharing your thoughts on this matter.
    I also agree that any school textbooks need to be balanced so the next generation could share right view on the world they will share.

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    The book “So Far from the Bamboo Grove” « I Dream Therefore I Am

  16. Alex Says:

    Thank You

  17. Mature Asians Says:


    I don’t agree with you in 100%, but you covered some good points regarding this topic

  18. melonbarmonster Says:

    T Whitney and those like him should do everything in his power to find a cure to his moral retardation because pretending or imagining that Japan’s atrocities somehow puts Korean and Japanese claims on equal footing is morally retarded.

    This book is a nice survival story that sympathetically tells the story of a girl who’s very life in Korea was so that her father could perpetuate war crimes against Koreans. This is akin to a nice story that glorifies the daughter of a SS officer’s daughter who father was in charge of hunting down Jews for the gas chamber while villifying Jews who were raping and innocent fleeing Nazi families.

    This is absolute moral sewage that distorts and defrauds historical, social and moral reality.

    What a shame.

  19. Cloe Says:

    Can anyone tell me the whole story? Or is that illegal?

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