State asks schools to weigh in on disputed book
Critics say the story wrongly portrays Japanese as war victims of Korea
The state Department of Education wants to know whether a book available to many public schools is appropriate for students after being warned by the Korean Consulate that it contains historical distortions about the end of World War II.
"So Far from the Bamboo Grove" by Yoko Kawashima Watkins.
The autobiographical book, "So Far from the Bamboo Grove," was written by Yoko Kawashima Watkins and depicts her life as an 11-year-old Japanese girl fleeing from a city in north Korea to Japan in 1945. During her escape, Watkins, now a Massachusetts resident, talks about bombings by U.S. planes and murders, rapes and other atrocities committed against the Japanese by Koreans.
But critics say the book, which has been available since 1986 and recently has been dropped by several American schools, does not match historical accounts about the Japanese colonial occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto sent an e-mail to school officials Wednesday asking for general feedback about the 183-page book.
Hamamoto also wanted to know if teachers using the book were following a department policy that instructs them to present all sides of a disputed issue.
In a quick check, the department found 150 copies of the book among 140 schools, said Greg Knudsen, spokesman for the department. The book also is listed among thousands of titles available in an Accelerated Reader Program, a service to which several public schools subscribe, he said.
However, Knudsen does not expect the book, which is listed as a fictionalized autobiography at school libraries, to be pulled from shelves.
"I don't believe that we would be wanting to do anything that extreme," he said, adding that schools were told to send comments about the book by Monday. "It would be appropriate in an academic setting to discuss it with a fuller perspective on the issues that are raised."
But Kipapa Elementary School, which recently got 50 copies of the book ordered by a teacher, will keep them away from students until they hear from the department, said Principal Bruce Naguwa.
"We will wait for the officials to go either way on it. That's why, for myself right now, I'm telling the library to just keep them in the back," Naguwa said. "We don't want to be caught in no controversy."
Customer reviews about the book on the online store Amazon.com call it "propaganda material" and "far from the truth." Although Watkins has defended the accuracy of her book, it has been removed from schools in New York, Massachusetts, Texas and Rhode Island, according to South Korean News Agency Yonhap.
Dong Yern Kim, deputy consul general with the Korean Consulate in Hawaii, said he recently visited Hamamoto to tell her the book "misguided the American students."
Kim said that among scores of false statements in the book is an alleged air raid by B-29 bombers in July 1945, an attack Kim claims never happened. Kim also questioned a passage in which Watkins and her mother wore uniforms from the North Korea Communist Army, a group that he said was not formed until 1948.
"It portrays that Japanese are victims and the Koreans as the villains," he said, "and we have concerns about it."