Yoko Kawashima Watkins
Author, Yoko Kawashima Watkins came for her annual visit to Pollard, and it was a pleasure to be reunited with her. The 7th graders had finished reading her book “So far from the Bamboo Grove,” and her visit would give them opportunities to ask questions about it.
Yoko started her talk by teaching the audience to say “Ohayo,” which means “Good morning” in Japanese. After asking them to stand and bow to their honorable teachers, who she had asked to stand in the front of the room to receive their greetings, Yoko asked them to allow her two minutes to speak.
She showed a Chinese/Japanese character for “people” explaining that the two sticks in the character are like people – representing you and me. She told the students “Allow me to lean on your shoulder, and you can lean on mine. True peace comes from each of us. Peace comes from our hearts, not the government. The world is bad, but you’re not going to be bad adults. Let us lean on each other’s shoulders and show respect, appreciation and charm to each other. Please teach these wonderful qualities to your own children. You are the mirror of your children.”
Students were asked for questions, and Yoko greeted each with a respectful bow, asked their name, and listened to their questions. When one asked what was a tatami mat, Yoko showed a photo of a room in her home her husband had built for her which had 8 tatami mats, explaining that they were very large and heavy. She said when they married she had asked to stay home to raise their children, so felt she should not ask him for any gifts on special occasions like birthdays and holidays. He did not give her anything, and she was fine with that decision. However, after 35 years of marriage, he surprised her with the tatami room explaining he had used the money he had saved from 35 years of holiday gifts he didn’t give her.
When another asked if she was the character from the book, everyone had a good laugh as Yoko explained she was much older. One young man asked about her geta (clog-like shoes) wondering if they were comfortable. Yoko showed him several types of geta, from baby to adult sizes and explained show she had trained her children from a young age how to walk in them. They started out with a small slipper then a small flip-flop then another flip-flop with a little wedge and a small ribbon to tie around the ankle. Gradually, they progressed to a much higher shoe. Yoko explained she only let them walk about 5 steps in the higher shoes until they got used to it and were able to run around in them – just like they do with their flip flops and sneakers.
To the question “what was your proudest moment?,” Yoko said it was raising her four children without having to say she was too busy because she was a stay-at-home mom so she would have time for them.
Several girls in different clusters asked if she had ever become friends with the girls at her school. Her answer was a definite “No!” They had called her names, made fun of her raggedy clothes, called her trashpicker because she was poor and had to rummage through the trash to find paper for her school lessons, made fun of her deafness, and bullied her every day. When she wanted to retaliate, she remembered her parents telling her three things: a) no matter the circumstances, don’t lose your temper, b) throw away your pride, and c) forgive. She felt able to do the first two, but admitted to having difficulty with the third. When she made the decision to follow her parent’s advice, she gained two invisible friends “hope” and “dream,” which followed her throughout her life.
When asked, Yoko told the story of how she had been inspired to write her book. When she first visited the U.S., she stayed with a host family and met their very spoiled 15 year old daughter. This young teen was very rude to her parents, complained of having nothing to eat (despite a full refrigerator), complained of having nothing to wear (despite a closet full of clothes), smoked in the house, ground out her cigarette on the banister before stomping upstairs, and was very rude to Yoko and her parents for the rest of the day. Yoko had written the girl a 10 page letter telling her to appreciate what she had, then decided not to mail it because she realized the girl was spoiled because her parents had raised her that way and realized her letter wouldn’t change her behavior. Several years later, she wound up expanding those 10 pages to 50 for a writing assignment, and it became the beginnings of the book.
At the end of each session, Yoko answered questions one-on-one with students who crowded around to speak to her. You could see the love Yoko had for her young listeners and for their honorable teachers. Thank you Yoko for coming to visit. Pollard looks forward to having you come in the future for many more years. (Click here to see a slideshow of her visits. All photos on this page can be enlarged by clicking on them.)