Duc, sequere, aut de via decede!

Yoko Watkins Defends Memoir Amid Angry Crowd

February 16th, 2007 . by Gerry-Bevers


The Boston Globe, February 16, 2007

 “Author defends memoir on Korea, apologizes for furor”

SHERBORN –Yoko Kawashima Watkins, a soft-spoken 73-year-old author from Cape Cod, stood yesterday before an angry audience that included seven South Korean media outlets to defend a controversial memoir that has stirred debate from the Boston suburbs to Hawaii. more

I slightly shorter version of the above article can be found here, and more background on the controversy can be found here.

I do not understand what she has to apologize for or what is so controversial about the memoir? I have not read the book because the Korean publisher has stopped sales here, but from what I have read about the book, there is little or nothing in it to create the kind of “furor” Koreans and Korean-Americans are making over it. For example, was it really necessary for “seven South Korean media outlets” to attend the press conference?

This story is a perfect example of how malicious and ridiculously petty Koreans can sometimes be. And if you want an example of character assassination, read my following translation of this Yonhap News report:

Yoko Reasserts ‘So Far from the Bamboo Grove” Is All True”

Admits family registry a lie… Unable to dispell suspicions about father

(Boston – Yonhap) Special Correspondent  Lee Gi-chang — On the 15th, Yoko Kawashima Watkins, author of “So Far From the Bamboo Grove,” reasserted her claim that all the facts in her book are true, though she was unable to present any conclusive evidence concerning the main suspicions about it. The book is at the center of a history distortion controversy for depicting Koreans as the assailants and Japanese as the victims at the end of the Japanese Empire.

On this day [Ms.] Yoko held a press conference in the Boston suburbs at “The Peace Abbey,” where she is an executive member and where she stressed that, except for three parts of “So Far From the Bamboo Grove,” she personally experienced all that was written.

Ms. Yoko had previously claimed that all the facts were true except for two that involved her brother, but today she admitted that the date for the Nagasaki nuclear bombing was August 9, not the August 8 date she mistakenly wrote in her book. She said that including this error there were only three things in the book that were not true.

Concerning there being a People’s Army in July-August 1945, there being a bamboo grove in Nanam, there being intense bombing by American military planes, her father’s occupation, and other controversies, Ms. Yoko claimed that they were all true without adding much more to her previous explanation.

However, Ms. Yoko won the Asahi Newspaper-sponsored writing prize in 1947, which is different from the 1946 date she wrote in the book. This shows that there are more than just three parts of the book that are different from the facts.

Concerning suspicions that her father was an executive adminstrator of Unit 731, Ms. Yoko was unable to present any conclusive proof of the activities of her father except to repeat her previous claim that he worked in the administrative section of the Manchurian Railroad Company and that the Chinese characters for his name were different from Kayoshi Kawashima, who was a major general in Unit 731.

In her book Ms. Yoko wrote that her mother and grandmother were already dead in 1945, but in her 1952 family registry they were recorded as being alive. Concerning this, she admitted that they deceived the Japanese government in their struggle to survive. She also submitted this falsified family registry when she immigrated to the US in 1955, which was a violation of US immigration laws.

Daniel Barenblatt, who also attended the interview and who is an expert researcher of Unit 731, said, “You can tell by just looking at Ms. Yoko’s face that she is lying.” He said, “The book is a lie from the cover and the first sentence.”

Mr. Barenblatt said, “When I heard Ms. Yoko say that Korean students all understand the book, I could not control my rage.” He pointed out, ” It is ridiculous to say that Korean students understand a book that, to anyone, obviously depicts Koreans as being the villain.”

Many of Ms. Yoko’s supporters attended the news conference and ridiculed the embarrassing questions that were asked her while also demanding that the questioning quickly end. They also clapped when comments were made that defended her.

When she was asked how she planned to respond to a lawsuit against “So Far From the Bamboo Grove,” Ms. Yoko said with a perplexed look on her face, “This is the first I have heard of it.” She passed the question over to one of her supporters, who said, “We will deal with it in the Congress of Library” [sic].

2007/02/16 14:10

UPDATE: Daniel Barenblatt has written a comment on Occidentalism denying the quotes in the Yonhap News article. You can read his comment here.

64 Responses to “Yoko Watkins Defends Memoir Amid Angry Crowd”

  1. comment number 1 by: opp

    Perhaps, does he misunderstand with kawasima Kiyosi who was the defendant of the Khabarovsk trial? As for the story of MARUTA, “Testimony” in this trial becomes basic.

  2. comment number 2 by: James

    I really hope the Nanjing t-shirt thing isn’t actually true. What kind of a serious scholar would wear such a t-shirt to a press conference like that? Even if Kawashima’s father was a member of Unit 731 [something nobody has proven yet], why exactly would you wear a Nanjing t-shirt to that event? What does Nanjing have to do with the factuality of Mrs. Kawashima’s book?

  3. comment number 3 by: Gerry-Bevers

    Yes, Matt, I am making a new post for the article. And, No, I don’t think you are seeing things.

  4. comment number 4 by: bishamon

    So he is just like any other anti-Japanese activist? He works for who? I don’t know what to believe anymore…

  5. […] Duc, sequere, aut de via decede! « Yoko Watkins Defends Memoir Amid Angry Crowd […]

  6. comment number 6 by: Travolta

    I would like to back up the most important point other posters have made about the Unit 731 aspect. Even if her father were in Unit 731, why should SHE be less believable? She is not her father, she is not imperial Japan. I can’t believe anyone is thinking less of her based on what her father may have done. The implication that she is lying based on the implication her father MAY have been involved in war crimes is plain nasty and childish. Shame on anyone who thinks less of anyone for their parents sins. Grow up Korean media!

  7. comment number 7 by: Sonagi

    Matt wrote:

    Mr Barenblatt, all someone needs to be a member of a “communist army” is a red armband and a violent temperament. It seems from the review of the book by Sonagi that the “communist army” was more like bandits in attacking, looting and raping.

    So Far from the Bamboo Grove is a memoir of an 11-yr-old’s traumatic experience 40 years after the event. At the forum attended by Mr. Barenblatt, Mrs. Watkins claimed that all but three events were true and insisted, for example, that US planes did bomb North Korea in 1945. I would not call Mrs. Watkins a liar. I believe she is recalling to the best of her memory, I would not, however, give the memories of one girl the same weight as historical documents. Collective memories, like those recorded in Under the Black Umbrella, can give us a more complete picture of an event or a time period. In other words, I wouldn’t ban Mrs. Watkins’ book, but I wouldn’t use it as historical evidence.

    As for charges that Mr.Barenblatt is “anti-Japanese,” his book about the horrors of Unit 731 does not make him “anti-Japanese.” What happened there was horrible, and was first exposed by Japanese researchers and relatives of soldiers burdened by trememdous guilt. One can criticize or condemn specific events or acts in history without hating the citizens of the government that carried out those acts.

    There are books in Japanese about the US WWII interment camps for Japanese-Americans. Are the writers or the readers “anti-American”? Let’s not get too defensive here.


    Did you really wear a Nanjing T-shirt to the press event? This issue is emotional enough for Koreans. No need to stoke the fire. Even if Watkins’ father was involved in Unit 731, she herself was an innocent young girl. Moreover, her father has not been alleged to have been involved in the rape of Nanjing.

  8. comment number 8 by: Matt

    As for charges that Mr.Barenblatt is “anti-Japanese,” his book about the horrors of Unit 731 does not make him “anti-Japanese.” What happened there was horrible, and was first exposed by Japanese researchers and relatives of soldiers burdened by trememdous guilt. One can criticize or condemn specific events or acts in history without hating the citizens of the government that carried out those acts.

    Sonagi, I was definitely not implying that he was anti-Japanese based on anything that he had written in his book, which I have not read. I was referring to the description of his conduct given by the Choson Ilbo, which if true, certainly makes him look like an anti-Japanese activist.

  9. comment number 9 by: Sonagi

    angusmack wrote:

    Christ, how long have you guys been in this country and are unable to sniff that one out? Because you choose a knee-jerk reaction to those fabricated quotes -unusual in such an integrity ridden group as the Korean media I know, but it does happen- you look gullible and stupid.

    Settle down, buddy. Many of the commenters here are Japanese who have never lived in Korea and use English as a second language.

  10. comment number 10 by: kjeff

    LOL, all the brouhaha over the historical inaccuracies. You ask sixth-graders, “Who’s the bad guy in WWII?” They’ll say, “The Nazis.” No, not the Germans probably, the Nazis, nice and short. You ask sixth-graders, “Who’s the bad guy in “So Far From The Bamboo Grove”?” They’ll say, “The Korean Communist soldiers, but only the ones who are hurting Yoko and the other girls. No, not the Koreans… because that would mean stereotyping a race based on the act of the few.” Yeah, right… A kid on the corner will say, “No, no… It’s the war.” Give that kid an AMTRAK ticket to Harvard!
    Point is, would you want to be that Korean kid in the class? The only girl that you’ve ever loved ‘all your life’ is reading this book. No, if she doesn’t like me after reading it, she is a shallow bi**h, right?

  11. comment number 11 by: dogbert

    Sonagi claimed:

    I am a fluent Korean speaker

    Could you tell me the difference between 조회 and 추천?


  12. comment number 12 by: seouldout

    Sadly these inaccurate quotes could leave the impression that Mr. Barenblatt is a lackey–I’m assuming the quotes are indeed inaccurate based solely on his post and that he isn’t quoted by either English-language paper that wrote about the press conference. Having seen the quality work of both Sonagi and Mr. Bevers numerous times I’d be flabbergasted if they incorrectly translated what has been reported by Yonhap. Hopefully Mr. Barenblatt is still reading this site and will answer some questions.

    Firstly, who identified you as an author and expert of Unit 731 to the press and/or audience? Does your knowledge of Unit 731 better the discussion and understanding of this book, which is based on Ms. Watkins’s personal experiences, and, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with unit 731? In addition to Unit 731 have you researched the withdrawal of the Japanese, particularly non-combatants, from its colonies and occupied territories?

    You posted this above, #21 & #27:

    What I believe, and what I told the reporter, was the same that I tell everyone else, that there are some serious factual errors in the book, in the book’s first sentence for example, and that the book, overall, unfortunately reverses the roles of oppressed and oppressor in the Asian historical period of the time, giving the readers, who are children and teens, the false general impression that Japanese colonists were the persecuted victims of the colonized Koreans, rather than the reality of the historical situation from 1910 to August 1945. As such it should not be taught in the classroom, nor should it be presented as autobiographical historical fiction. I hope this clarifies things for any reader of the Yonhap misquotes who had been misled to misunderstand my views and position on the subject of the book and its author.

    About the impression: Is this opinion based on your gut or have you conducted research about the impression this books makes on kids and teens? I’ll assume you read the book. Have you read the accompanying lesson materials used by the teachers? What’s your take on those? Perhaps you’re familiar with the book “Sadako & the Thousand Paper Cranes”. It’s taught to grades 3 though 8, lessen plan here.
    Does this book also give the false impression that the Japanese were victims and the Americans were perpetrators?

    About the serious factual errors:
    Could you explain what factual errors you’ve found? So far I’ve only been able to identify objections by others to “bamboo”, “Communist soldiers” and “US bomber attack”. Are there other factual errors? Are you a botanist or have you found research that states bamboo doesn’t exist in northern Korean, particularly Cheongjin? I’ve checked into this and have found two species of bamboo that are indigenous to North Korea. Mr. Bevers and another poster found narratives by Koreans that report of para-military / bandit type groups active in Korea upon the Japanese surrender. Understanding the fog of war, and the fear felt by children, could this explain the “Communist soldiers” seen by Ms. Watkins I’ve found nothing the disputes the fact there were no US bomber strikes in Korea. Given the altitude US bombers flew at I’d be surprised that they could be identified as any nation’s, though the US bombing of Japan was so well known that perhaps any plane seen, particularly by a child, was thought to be from the US.

    Interested in what you have to say. Thanks.

  13. […] Mr. Barenblatt has denied some of the quotes, and has been vague or unresponsive on others. You can read Mr. Barenblatt’s responses here and here. When asked to clarify his position by answering further questions by posters on this blog, Mr. Barenblatt left the following message on February 19th: To shadkt and ponta: […]

  14. […] Daniel Barenblatt, author of “A Plague Upon Humanity,” has responded to questions, asked on Occidentalism, concerning quotes attributed to him in the Korean media (see here, here & here), which was reporting on a press conference given by Yoko Kawashima Watkins, author of “So Far from the Bamboo Grove.” Mr. Barenblatt also comments on the way the story has been reported here at Occidentalism. Anyway, without further comment, as promised by me, here is Mr. Barenblatt’s unedited response to the questions. Okay, this is probably going to be my last post on this website. Since I began posting here, people have warned me not to have anything to do with this “trash” site due to its bigoted, dishonest and disreputable nature, e.g. its ultra-creepy, repeated denial/downplaying of comfort women being sex slaves of Imperial Japan (vs.the claims here of comfort women being just “regular prostitutes” and sold into it by other Koreans), and its denial/downplaying of other war crimes of Imperial Japan such as Unit 731, the Nanking Massacre etc. And also of course, its obvious and peculiar continual Korean-bashing, a kind of niche-hatred specialty that is played up here, amongst the more general attacks and ridiculing of non-white immigrants that are to be found with a quick look about. […]