Friday, December 08, 2006

A Letter From Bookseller Carol Chittenden on Yoko Kawashima Watkins

A letter from Carol Chittenden (a Massachusettes bookseller), regarding the recent challenge of Yoko Kawashima Watkins:

Dear Colleagues,

Many of us know Yoko Kawashima Watkins for her perennial favorite titles, So Far from the Bamboo Grove and My Brother, My Sister, and I. Over the last two decades she has spoken to tens of thousands of children, teachers, parents, booksellers, librarians, writers, editors, graduating classes, peace groups, and international scholars. Again and again her words have inspired standing ovations; often they also move her listeners to tears. Based upon her personal experiences as a refugee at the end of World War II, she delivers a wide variety of stories containing two important messages: peace is important because war does terrible things; and integrity is the most valuable thing any person possesses.

So it is surprising that Yoko and her books are under attack. The challenge comes from a Korean Man, Henry Jaung, who apparently lives in the area of Dover, MA, an affluent suburb west of Boston. (I say "apparently," because much about this individual is unclear.) IN September he caused a private school in Connecticut to withdraw Yoko's speaking invitation, alleging that her father was responsible for war crimes in the 1940's. In fact, Yoko's father, Yoshio Kawashima, was a highly refined and educated diplomat who was the top civilian official in the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and Korea. He gained a reputation for saving many, many Koreans and Chinese from the often brutal and despotic Japanese military presence. But a general with a similar name was responsible for some very unpleasant events in the
same period.

Once Yoko cleared up that confusion, Mr. Jaung lodged other charges, to the effect that her books contain inappropriate sexual content because they describe, very briefly and cleanly, the fact that Korean soldiers abducted and raped girls, and nearly caught Yoko's older sister Ko as well. Jaung also accuses the books of being anti-Korean, which would appear to indicate that he has not read them, because there are long passages about the kindness of Korean individuals who helped the Kawashima family members as they fled hundreds of miles.

For some time Mr. Jaung would not identify himself publicly in connection with his accusations. He also refused, through intermediaries, to meet with Yoko. But more recently, he has been campaigning to have her books removed from their long-standing place in the Dover-Sherborn school system, and that resulted in his identification in the press. Much of the controversy has been covered in the Boston Globe.

According to the paper, he has also sought to muster support among other Korean Americans with his claims of anti-Korean content in the books.

Most recently Mr. Jaung has threatened to seek a court injunction against the schools' use of the books. While it would seem unlikely that U.S. courts would go along with his claims, his aggressive attacks have already caused disruption in several schools and anguish for Yoko, who has worked so hard to encourage reconciliation and understanding. His agitation has, however, produced one valuable result: it is showing children who know these books the value of their freedom to read, and how easily that right can be attached. As the Cape Cod Times editorial of December 3 concludes, in regard to the case, "There is another way to add balance: More books. More reading."

Please be aware of this confrontation, and re-read the books if you haven't done so recently, in case the issue arises – as Mr. Jaung expressly hopes – in schools near you. If there is a Korean American community in your area, this is even more likely.

(Full disclosure: Yoko is an admired personal friend, and I have had the honor of working with her, and recommending her books to readers in my store. More often, I have overheard one reader recommend them to another.)


Carol B. Chittenden

Eight Cousins

Falmouth, MA

[UPDATE]: Some posters have objected to some of the facts in this letter (in comments). Ms. Chittenden may respond. In the meantime, we'll consider publishing responses to this letter. Email me at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously, you are the one has not read and fully comprehended the Boston Globe news articles. It seems clear that your judgments are clouded by profits and friendship with Yoko. Go read the articles and Yoko's books again, and get your facts straight.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been confimed at the government- to- government level that Yoshio Kawashima's name does not appear on the list of diplomats, past and present, the Japanese Government maintains.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Chittenden makes several accusations that are factually incorrect. Mr. Jaung never made mention nor iniated any lawsuit nor did he have an invitation to Ms. Watkins to speak withdrawn. There is no Yoshio Kawashima in any records of the Japanese administration in Manchuria/
Manchukuo. Google it yourself. Rather odd that minor officials come up easilly but not the highest civilian official? People interested in this issue should get their facts straight. It is difficult enough for people to review this topic without fales information being put out.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For your information:
Mr.Jaung had no involvement with the school in Connecticut. Actually the private school you are referring to in your statement is in Rye, New York . I should know since it was my 12-year-old daughter who protested Mrs.Watkin's book back in September because she thought the book does not portray an accurate account of history. Her school headmaster listened to my daughter's opionions and agreed with her.

Please read both articles that were featured in the Globe. You will find the name of my daughter's school and our names. Since then, two other private schools have decided to remove Mrs.Watkin's book from their curriculum list.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am rereading Bamboo Grove after the recent news about the book and its author. Again, for the second time, I am horrified at the depiction of Koreans in what I will call this work of fiction. Let us set the record straight. Japan rpaed and plundered the Korean peninsula and its people. That is fact. Ms. Watkins, while an entertaining storyteller may have chosen to conveniently forget this fact.

I am not in favor of banning this book, removing ot from school systems or censoring it. I am in favor of people understanding the true story, not a fabricated "recounting" of the story. Those selling this book - and there are some who have posted here - need to get beyond the personal friendships and recognize the book for what it is - a made up tale misrepresenting Japan and casting Korea in an unfavorable light. I would ask others to either: read this book, or read the history books.


11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm also one of the disappointed person on "a letter from bookseller Carol Chittenden on Yoko Kawashima Watkins"

If we are more interested in the issues on Yoko's book, the following article will help you.

The book begins on July 29, 1945, when Watkins and her family leave Nanam after what she calls weeks of bombings by American planes.

But records indicate such U.S. bombings were impossible because Nanam was out of reach of the the B-29s, critics say.

Moreover, records say Japanese forces held an iron grip on the entire Korean Peninsula until their surrender on Aug. 15 that year to the United States, disputing Watkins' account of how Koreans had organized "anti-Japanese communist" groups as she called them, critics say.

Carter Eckert, a Harvard University professor, called references to such groups "problematic" because such an organization would have been near impossible given Japan's tight clutch on Korea at the time.

Critics question Watkins' account of her family as well. She says her father, Yoshio Kawashima, worked for the Manchurian Railroad, although in her book she describes how her family was prevented from boarding a train to Seoul. She says her father attended Oxford University, but parents who tried to confirm it found no record of a Yoshio Kawashima there.

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is also contradictary article regarding on the escape to Japan after or during WW II.

I'm really interested in what is real!

Watkins' story was contradicted by Harumi Ishii, who in 1982 wrote a two-part series in the Japan Times about her travel from Harbin, China, to Japan.

Harumi Ishii is the daughter of Shiro Ishii, the mastermind behind the notorious Unit 731, a biological warfare headquarters that tested germs and weapons on Koreans and Chinese.

She began to evacuate south on Aug. 11, 1945 with Unit 731 members, traveling by train to Korea along the east coast and then by boat to Japan. Watkins says in her book that her escape began on July 29 of that year.

Ishii wrote in the Japan Times that thousands of Japanese women and children were on the train, but they had no problems with harassment. Some people gave them water at a Korean train station, but the Japanese were reluctant to drink it for fear that it might have been poisoned, she said.

Both Watkins and Ishii talk about a mother giving birth on the train, raising a possibility that they may even have been on the same train.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear editor,

According to you, Yoko's father was a highly refined diplomat, however Yoko herself wrote to JungAngIlbo recently,

"My father: Yoshio Kawashima 1897∼1968
Born in Aomori Pref. Japan
Worked at Administrative section in Southern Manchuria,
during 1933-1945 his Nick name “diplomat".

According to her own letter, her father's occupation wasn't "diplomat" but his nickname was "diplomat".

7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a good example of thinking backward. Just because she is good friend of you, that doesn't make her book good. You should read the book and find out what really happened during the WWII. How would you feel if I wrote a fiction that describes the Jew the bad one and the Nazi as victims? Would that book touch you if I'm your friend?

8:43 AM  
Blogger Andrew Lee said...

This person entirely ignores the substantive issues that is at the heart of the matter and is ignorantly complaining and makes personal attacks and villifies people who oppose this book.

Anyone who thinks a bookseller's self-interested petty politicization of serious matters is credible needs their head checked.

What's most disturbing to me is that this bookseller shamelessly singles out Korean-Americans as being the unreasonable villians in this matter without discussion the substantive issues. That is absolutely disgusting and borderline racist behavior.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you say historical fiction?

Lighten up - obviously all of you have an axe to grind that has nothing to do with Yoko. Get over it! How would any of you know if you were not there?

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anumolu Rajesh,

Dear readers listen to me carefully this book is seen through Yoko Kawshimsa's eyes not by some textbook or facts seriously come on grow up. I have met the author and i am soon to start writing to her. If you have any question you want me to ask please email them to me at

P.S. ths is historical fiction hense the FICTION

10:40 AM  
Blogger Jay said...

Please find my blog. I am working alone at princeton, NJ hoping to extend my protest to other school district and states.


8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of you are completly wrong! I am only 11 years old and I am appaled that all of you are saying such bad stuff about Yoko. I have wrote to Yoko before and know that she is a wonderful person! I know one of her friends and we both agree that every one should lighten up because she did not right the book to be anti keren! She wrote the book t o tell of her life. In her other book she tells of her father trying to help the keriens and getting in trouble because of that. She even says nicely of the Kerians. Like her neibors the Lee's. Yoko is just writing of her life. Lighten up!

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harm done... all these innocent kids siding with pro-Japanese perspectives thinking Yoko and her family did nothing wrong. What's next, are we going to whitewash SS officers' families? KKK families?? Absolutely pathetic.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This book is a beautiful piece of the account of her escape. Look, I have met Yoko and talked to her about why this book is fiction. She changed the names of several of the Korean people who helped her to keep their identities to themselves. She also changed how many mothes her brother stayed with the Kim family. Kim is one of the names that was changed, for Kim is a very common Korean name and would not point out who helped the him. Her father was most certainly a diplomat, for he really was hurt when he was imprisoned. The sadness in which she discussed this subject was infectious.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

If many people TRUELY read the history of Korea/Japan's War. Its very true that Japan invaded Korea for around 20-30 years killing korean people for not speaking their language and following their rules. Japanese has even killed kings and queens in korea (korean used to have kings and queens) and they pretty much destroyed all of the evidence and took their belongings (treasures) to Japan and the worst thing is they have displayed it in the musuems indicating its their own. Japanese killed alot of koreans and used the human beings as weapon experiment, and torture. Japanese soldiers took korean children and women to use them as sex slaves. The worst part is that in japanese history books, they dont mention that at all, so the younger Japanese generation dont know what Japanese did to other countries, so they have hatred toward Koreans. Most people dont know about this, because THEY NEVER READ IT! About Yoko's Book "So Far from bamboo grove", the author's book is misleading, culturally-biased, and inaccurate statements regarding Korea and history have unjustifiably hurt students' identities, emotions, and educational experiences. The book negatively and unfairly portrays Koreans. Even if the book is taught as fiction and even though the author has acknowledged that she changed dates and details in order to make the story more dramatic, for some students it could be their only exposure, or one of their few exposures, to Korean people. This is very wrong.

10:44 AM  
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8:36 PM  

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