So Far from the Bamboo Grove

by Yoko Kawashima Watkins

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What challenges and dangers does Hideyo face in So Far from the Bamboo Grove?

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After failing a military conscription exam and being sent to work in a munitions assembling factory to serve Japan in that way, Hideyo is left behind when his mother and sisters must flee the bamboo grove, after the Russians land in Japan-governed Korea, for their safety because their household is in the employ of the Japanese diplomatic corp, therefore an enemy of Russia. The munitions factory Hideyo works in is blown up, but he and his friends narrowly escape death. Returning to their hometown with the bamboo grove, they find family and friends missing or dead. Hideyo discovers the note his mother leaves for him instructing him to meet them in Seoul at the train station where she and his sisters wait for him in the most dire of circumstances for one month's time. Hideyo starts on his journey to escape Korea and the Russians, who had captured his father, in the company of his friends. Circumstances force them apart as they journey so that Hideyo completes his journey alone.

The same dangers that thwart his mother and sisters thwart him as well, forcing him to travel under cover of night's darkness just as they did. Food was not easily found. Shelter from the harsh elements was hard to come by. When near the thirty-eighth parallel, Hideyo nearly freezes to death but is discovered and saved by a merciful and kind Korean farm family who nurse him back to health and offer him a home with them as their son because they know that for him to cross the thirty-eighth parallel by swimming the Imjon River spells almost certain death. Grateful for their loving kindness, Hideyo follows his duty and desire to reunite with his family and his native country, Japan. He dares to swim the Imjon, bullets pelting around him all the way as he swims from the north side of the thirty-eighth to the south side of the thirty-eighth.

In almost miraculous safety, Hideyo reaches the far shore and runs forward to continue his dangerous journey to Seoul. When he arrives at the train station in hopes of meeting his mother and sisters, he finds they have survived but have been forced, after their one month wait, to abandon hope of his arrival and flee to Pusan for their own safety where they board a ship bound for their homeland of Japan.

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