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100 year-old Okinawan Peruvian woman tells her story

100 year-old Okinawan Peruvian woman tells her story

Surrounded by her family, Tsuyu Toyama, who turned 100 years old this year, smiles in Lima City, Peru.

September 7, 2011 Hisao Miyagi, reporter of Ryukyu Shimpo, in Lima City

As the Peru Okinawa Kenjin-Kai marked the 100th anniversary of its foundation, first-generation Okinawan Peruvian Tsuyu Toyama, who currently resides in Lima City, Peru, turned 100 this year but remains in good health.
It has been 81 years since Toyama went to Peru when she was 19 years old. Experiencing an era of significant change, with tough times such as the war years, her life overlaps with the 100-year history of the Okinawa Kenjin-Kai. Toyama spoke from the heart, saying “I was able to overcome many hardships thanks to the strong relationship I share with so many Okinawan Peruvians. I will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Association, and hope that it continues to strive to keep its activities going.”

Toyama was born in Awase, Okinawa City in 1911. Her father and her late husband, Zensei Toyama, who passed away in 1995 at the age of 83, emigrated to Peru a short time ahead of her arrival in 1930.
Toyama earned a living running a general store.
She says that she was discriminated against by other Japanese immigrants because, like other Okinawan people who emigrated to Peru before World War II, she mostly spoke the Okinawan dialect.
Toyama said, “Other Japanese immigrants looked down upon those of us from Okinawa, calling us ‘Okinawa-san.’ Although I experienced hardships, I somehow got through them, still determined to do my best in my life in Peru.”
Toyama and her fellow Okinawan immigrants supported each other through these hardships.

When the Pacific War began, Peruvian society changed drastically with Japanese schools and the Consular Office being closed as a result.
Seen as an enemy alien, Toyama was forced to live a low-profile life.

Toyama went on to face other hardships. She sent her eldest son and second son, who were both born in Peru, back to Okinawa to receive a Japanese education before the war began.
Toyama was the brink of despair when she heard that the unmarked Japanese passenger-cargo ship Tsushima-Maru, on which her second son was supposed to be, had been sunk by the submarine USS Bowfin, but fortunately, she later heard that her son had actually gone on a different ship. Toyama said, “I really regretted no leaving them in Peru. It was a terribly tough time for us.”
After the war, Toyama ran a restaurant and a hotel, and her husband served as the 36th chairman of the Japanese Association of Peru.

At 100 years old now, Toyama is still interested in Japanese and Okinawan social and political issues, saying, “I enjoy watching NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai, Japan Broadcasting Corporation) discussion programs.”
Toyama suffered a leg injury several months ago so she could not attend the gathering of elderly people, but all in all she is in good health. She said, “Okinawan people are tough and can be relied upon. I am proud of being Uchinanchu.” Tomaya continued, “I would like the Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival to go on into the future and hope that the spirit of Okinawa will be inherited by young people.”

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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