Memorial Service, Performances to Commemorate Battle of Okinawa

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Storyteller Alton Chung

SAN FRANCISCO — The National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS) will hold a special outdoor event commemorating the Battle of Okinawa on Saturday, June 18, from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Japantown Peace Plaza, located on Post Street between Laguna and Webster in San Francisco. Admission is free.

The Battle of Okinawa raged from April to June 1945. In addition to more than 100,000 Japanese and 72,000 American military casualties, more than 100,000 Okinawan civilians perished.

Organized in conjunction with the exhibition and program series “Nuchi du Takara: Lessons from the Battle of Okinawa,” the event will feature a memorial ceremony with Rev. Ronald Nakasone followed by performances by Nakayoshi (Okinawan singing), Genyukai (Okinawan sanshin music), Colin Ehara (spoken word), and Alton Chung (storytelling), plus a special collaboration between Kinuko Mototake (Okinawan dance), Wesley Ueunten (sanshin), Melody Takata (taiko) and Francis Wong (saxophone).

San Francisco Board of Supervisors members Ross Mirkarimi and Eric Mar will be on hand to give remarks and present certificates of recognition.

A premiere screening of the Nuchi du Takara Oral History Project will follow in the NJAHS Peace Gallery, 1684 Post St.

The “Nuchi du Takara” (Life Itself Is Our Treasure) exhibition is on view in the NJAHS Peace Gallery through Aug. 14. Through photos, artifacts, film footage and public programs, it shares the story of the Battle of Okinawa from an Okinawan point of view and honors the resilient spirit of the survivors who went on to rebuild their lives and create a legacy of peace.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a re-creation of a cave similar to the ones where Okinawan civilians sought refuge from the fierce fighting known as the “Typhoon of Steel.”

Gallery hours are 12 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and the first Saturday of the month.

This project is presented by the Nuchi du Takara Committee and NJAHS, and endorsed by the Edison Uno Institute of Nikkei and Uchinanchu Studies and the Japanese American National Library. Artifacts are on loan from the Haebaru Town Museum (Okinawa) and local individuals. Partial funding was provided by the International Exchange Division of the Okinawa Prefectural Offices, Henri and Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation, Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, Community-University Empowerment, San Francisco State University College of Ethnic Studies, and Okinawa Kenjinkai of San Francisco.

“Nuchi du Takara” is the opening presentation of NJAHS’ 2011 Henri and Tomoye Takahashi Public Program Series.

“Life Is the Treasure”

“Life Is the Treasure: Okinawan Memories of World War II,” a collection of riveting historical stories of integrity, courage and selflessness, will be performed on June 18 at 7 p.m. at Buddhist Church of San Francisco, 1881 Pine St. at Octavia Street. Brought to vivid life by storyteller Alton Chung, these stories share the experiences of Nisei, Okinawans, and Hawaii Okinawans:

• A Nisei born in Hawaii and raised in Okinawa, Takejiro Higa returned to Hawaii just before the U.S. entered World War II. He joined the Military Intelligence Service and had to help plan the invasion of the island where he grew up. He undertook the dangerous task of cave-flushing, coaxing Japanese soldiers and Okinawan civilians out of deep tunnels. Through it all, he never lost his deep compassion for the land and people of his childhood.

• Minoru Teruya, who was born in Hawaii and raised in Okinawa, was forced to choose between two countries.

• The Himeyuri were Okinawan high school girls who served as nurses’ aides during the Battle of Okinawa.

• “Pigs from the Sea” is the story of how the devastated people of Okinawa received a life-saving gift of aloha from the people of Hawaii after the war.

“Listening to the re-enactment of the relief efforts to Okinawa of over 60 years ago brought back fond memories of my father, bringing tears of nostalgia,” said Lily Horio, daughter of Shohei Miyasato, a member of the Hawaii United Okinawan Relief Association. “Alton Chung is certainly a great storyteller — he can take you back to the exact moment, evoking tears of joy and sadness. He is certainly a treasure to be cherished.”

“I hope that people will take the time to listen to Alton,” said Dorene Niibu, president of Aza Gushikawa Doshi Kai. “He puts in a lot of time into researching and studying the stories and people involved. He brings the story to life. It’s as though he was there. He brings out emotions from the audience, from sheer joy to a deep sadness. He transforms into the different characters. You have to see it, experience it.”

Due to some graphic imagery, it is suggested that children who attend be at least 10 years old.

Chung is an internationally known, award-winning storyteller. He grew up with the stories, superstitions and magic of the Hawaiian Islands. This, combined with his Japanese and Korean roots, gives him a unique perspective to tell cultural tales and personal stories with a deep sense of reverence and authenticity. Not only does he breathe life into traditional Asian folktales with sensitivity and deep connection, but he can also touch into the fire of ancient Hawaiian legends and tell them with passion and respect.

He also enjoys telling true stories of the Japanese Americans during World War II, but his true passion is telling ghost stories. Visit his website at www.altonchung.com.

Tickets are $12 general, $10 for NJAHS and BCSF members, $5 for seniors and youth. To purchase tickets, call (415) 921-5007 or email [email protected]. For more information, visit www.njahs.org.

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