So Far from the Bamboo Groveby Yoko Kawashima Watkins
In the final days of World War II, Koreans were determined to take back control of their country from the Japanese and end the suffering caused by the Japanese occupation. As an eleven-year-old girl living with her Japanese family in northern Korea, Yoko is suddenly fleeing for her life with her mother and older sister, Ko, trying to escape to Japan, a country Yoko… See more details below
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In the final days of World War II, Koreans were determined to take back control of their country from the Japanese and end the suffering caused by the Japanese occupation. As an eleven-year-old girl living with her Japanese family in northern Korea, Yoko is suddenly fleeing for her life with her mother and older sister, Ko, trying to escape to Japan, a country Yoko hardly knows.
Their journey is terrifying—and remarkable. It's a true story of courage and survival that highlights the plight of individual people in wartime. In the midst of suffering, acts of kindness, as exemplified by a family of Koreans who risk their own lives to help Yoko's brother, are inspiring reminders of the strength and resilience of the human spirit.
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It Was Almost Midnight On July 29, 1945, when my mother, my elder sister Ko, and I, carrying as many of our belongings as we could on our backs, fled our home in its bamboo grove, our friends, and our town, Nanam, in northern Korea, forever.
In darkness Mother checked windows and doors. I was eleven, Ko sixteen. I was very tired and my head was so dizzy I did not know which way I was heading. The cool night air swept my face; still my head was not clear, I saw Mother close the main entrance and lock it.
"Now give me your wrist, Little One," she commanded in a low voice.
I was called "Little One" by my parents and Ko, but my older brother, Hideyo, always teasing, called me "Noisy One" because I often screamed when I was teased and when we frolicked in the house.
My wrist? I hadn't had a night's sleep in two weeks because of the air raids. My head was very hazy.
"Hurry!" Mother found my wrist in the darkness. She was tying a rope to it. "So I won't lose you."
Tying Ko's wrist, she asked, her voice full of worry, "You did leave a note for your father?"
"I left a note for Hideyo," said Mother. "Oh, I hope he finds it and joins us. He can get in through his window. Now remember, no one knows we are leaving. No matter what, until we reach the train stationbe silent. Understand?"
"Yes," Ko said again. I wanted to cry.
Though we lived in northeastern Korea, we were Japanese. My country, Japan, which I had never seen, had been fightingAmerica and Britain for four years. Because Father was a Japanese government official, working in Manchuria, I had grown up in this ancient town. We were fifty miles from the Manchurian border, and we were so close to the Russian ports, Vladivostok and Nakhodka, across the sea from our harbor. Father came home by train as often as he could.
The shadow of war had been creeping across our peaceful village for months. The most horrible shock had come some weeks before. Mother and I were alone and I was practicing my brush-writing before going to my teacher's house for a calligraphy lesson. Calligraphy is dipping a fat or thin brush in India ink and writing in script or in the square style of Chinese characters.
I had finished my final copy when four Japanese army police burst in through the main door of our house, which only invited guests used, without taking off their shoes.
A mean-looking policeman told Mother, "We are here to collect metal. Iron, bronze, silver, and gold."
Mother stood, bewildered, and he yelled at her.
She gave him Father's treasured silver ashtray set. He threw it in a box and demanded, "More!"
Mother brought her bronze flower vase that stood in the Tokonoma (alcove), where flowers were always elegantly arranged. She began to pull the lovely arrangement of irises out one by one, and the policeman pushed her, yanked out the irises and leaves, and dumped the vase and heavy metal frog inside into the box. Mother's eyes were fixed on that box, but she was silent.
The head one noticed Mother's wedding ring and he demanded that. Then her spectacles, goldrimmed, though she told him she could see nothing without them. They went into the box.
Finally the head police picked up the Mount Fuji paperweight holding my calligraphy copy. That paperweight had been sent to me by Father's mother.
She said it had been passed on to my father from way back and she could still see my father, when young, using it to practice brush-writing. Through this Mount Fuji paperweight I dreamed of seeing the majestic mountain and imagined the beauty of my homeland.
He glanced at my writing, "Bu Un Cho Kyu" (Good Luck in War), then left the sheet and tossed the paperweight into the box.
I had stood there helpless, fists clenched, seething, and the iron weight smashing Mother's important lenses released my fury. I jumped at the head policeman's hand and bit it as hard as I could.
He yelled, but I bit harder. He shook me off, pushed Mother away and made her fall. Then he threw me on the floor and kicked my side and back with heavy army boots that had hard soles with metal cleats. My head went dark. Somewhere in the dark space I heard Mother's anguished cry. "Leave...leave!"
When I awoke, Hideyo, Ko, Mother, and Doctor Yamada were around me. The doctor was a friend of Father's who always treated his patients with a smile, but not this time. He gave me a shot.
Mother was putting a cold towel on my back. Every time I took a deep breath my chest and side pained, and the doctor said I might have cracked ribs. He looked at me through his half-glasses. "No more frolicking, no more crossing the stream. You stay home until I say all right."
He turned to Mother. "I will call my optometrist friend and he will prescribe lenses for you. This is absolutely inexcusable of the military," he said angrily. "The government must be desperate for supplies to make ammunition. Telephone me if a thing like this happens again."
His bald head was shining against the late afternoon sun, and in spite of my misery I remembered what he had said to Father once when he came to the New Year's party that he must invent a solution to grow black wavy hair.
I was glad I did not have to go to school the next day. For a long time, school had been changing. We studied for only three periods, and the male teachers were wearing army uniforms. Women and girls had to wear the national clothes, by order of Japanese Prime Minister Tojo khaki pants gathered at the ankles, simply designed long-sleeved blouses.
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