Learn About Yoko Kawashima Watkins

“I competed with life and death when I was young. And I won.” –Yoko Kawashima Watkins



Text Box:   Yoko’s Books


About Yoko


Japanese History


      Questions to Answer









Yoko’s Books



      So Far From the Bamboo Grove

                     Eleven-year-old Yoko Kawashima has lived all her

                life in Korea. This book follows the experiences of young Yoko as World War II comes to an end and Korea is engulfed in turmoil.  Koreans revolt to take back their homeland. Yoko and her family are forced to leave their home in Korea and to flee back to Japan in this story of heartbreak, cruelty, survival, and courage.




       My Brother, My Sister, and I

Living as refugees in Japan in 1947 while trying to locate their missing father, thirteen-year-old Yoko her older brother and sister must endure a bed fire, injury, and false charges of arson, theft, and murder.



Tales From The Bamboo Grove

Six Japanese folktales told around the dinner

Table when Yoko was a child.










About Yoko Kawashima Watkins


Yoko Kawashima Watkins was born in Japan in 1933. Her family lived in Manchuria a region in northern china where her father was stationed as a Japanese government official. This region of China had been under Japanese control since 1931. The family later moved to Nanam in northern Korea, where her father was overseeing Japanese political interests. Japan had taken control of Korea in 1910. Although the family lived in Korea they followed many Japanese traditions. Yoko, her brother Hideyo, and her sister Ko practiced calligraphy, the art of serving and receiving tea, and classic Japanese dance. Yoko’s family lived very comfortably in Korea until July of 1945, when it became clear that Japan was losing WW2. Yoko, her sister and her mother had to flee Korea to ensure their safety. Because Japans presence in Korea was greatly resented there comfortable life became a life on the run, as they made there was back to Japan. Yoko survived the journey back to Japan where she finished her secondary schooling. She then attending Kyoto University where she was in an English-language based program. She graduated and worked at the US Air Force Base as a translator, where she met her future husband. She married Donald Watkins, and American pilot in 1953.  In 1955 her husband was transferred to the US, where they lived in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, and finally settled in Brewster, Massachusetts where they still live. Together the couple had four children. In 1976 Yoko began writing So Far From The Bamboo Grove. It was published in 1986, and has won many awards. In 1994 she published a second book My Brother, My sister, and I. In addition to writing Yoko gives lectures, visits schools, answers questions, and gives advice to students.


Japanese History


In 1945 Japan, Germany, Italy, and other Axis countries were losing against Great Britain, the US, the Soviet Union, and other allied counties. During this time the tension between Korea and Japan was growing. The Japanese has controlled Korea since 1910 and many Koreas did not like their presence. Korea is positioned between Japan, China, and Russia, it the 1800’s Japan wanted to use Korea as a hub for trading. Korea resisted trade because they had a policy of isolation, when they did not cooperate the Japanese military forced them to sign a treaty of trade and friendship. Many Japanese ports were opened as a result. The Chinese did not like Japanese influence in Korea, because they were using the new trade agreement as an excuse to interfere in Korea’s affairs. China forced Korea to sign a treaty of trade along with other countries including the US. Japan and China continued to struggle over Korea; in 1894 it resulted in war. The Japanese won and began to give orders to Korea. Russia watched as all of these events took place, and in 1904 competion resulted in the Russo-Japanese war. Russia had to sign a treaty giving Japan unquestioned authority. In 1910 Japan took full control of Korea, establishing military and governmental control. They denied many basic rights, such as the right to assemble, freedom of speech. Korean schools were closed and new Japanese ones opened, where students could only study Japanese language and history. Japanese surrender in 1945 ended almost 36 years of Japanese control. The Allies decided that Korea could not govern itself after so many years of foreign rule. China, Great Britan, the US, and the Soviet Union set up a trusteeship to supervise the governing of Korea. Korea was divided along the 38th parallel, the north occupied by the Soviet Union, and the south occupied by the US. In 1948 the division became official when Korea divided into two republics; North Korea, and South Korea.

        At there closest point Korea and Japan are 140 miles apart. Although they are so close the two cultures are distinctly different. Korea is very mountainous so the railroads tend to hug the coast, and the major cities lie on the coastal area.






































Questions to Answer as you Read So Far From The Bamboo Grove


Chapters 1-3

Why dose Yoko’s family live in Korea? How does being Japanese affect them as the war progresses?

What saves the Kawashima’s from Korea communist soldiers? What is ironic about this situation?

Yoko calls her sister Ko “honorable sister.” Sometimes they exchange words that are no so honorable. What kind of relationship do they have? Why does Ko seem bossy to Yoko?


Chapters 4-7

Where does Hideyo go when he escapes from the factory? While he is there what shows his cleverness and forethought?

Describe the living conditions in the train station is Seoul, and then in the warehouse in Pusan?

What values does Yoko’s mother have? What shows that the girls share her values?

How would you describe Ko? If you were in a difficult situation would you want her with you?


Chapters 8-11

How does Yoko treat Mr. Naido? What does this teach you about Yoko’s character?

What happens when Yoko’s mom returns from her trip? How does this affect Yoko and Ko?

What skills and qualities does Ko have? Will they help her succeed later in life?




Questions to Answer After You Read This Web page


What did Japan want to use Korea for in the beginning?


What was being fought over in the Russo-Japanese war?


What year was Yoko born?


What were some Japanese traditions Yoko and her siblings practiced growing up?


Why did Yoko and her husband move to the US?


Why did Japan loss their control over Korea?


Why did Yoko’s Family leave Korea?














Web-page by Elizabeth King