Eldest Battle of Okinawa storyteller, Toshie Asato, retires after 40 years sharing her experiences

Eldest Battle of Okinawa storyteller, Toshie Asato, retires after 40 years sharing her experiences

On May 16 at Kishaba Community Center in Kitanakagusuku Village, Toshie Asato chats with the students after her final storytelling event.

May 17, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Wakana Arakaki

Toshie Asato is the eldest professional Battle of Okinawa storyteller in Okinawa, upon whom the movie Gama: Getto no Hana was modeled. At the age of 98, she has decided to stop storytelling due to poor physical health. On May 16, she held her final storytelling event at Kishaba Community Center in Kitanakagusuku Village. To the students gathered, who were visiting Okinawa on a field trip, Asato said, “It has been my mission to tell stories as long as I live. So that there is never such a wretched battle [as the Battle of Okinawa] again, please, everyone convey [these stories] to future generations.” With these words she passed the baton to younger generations.

Asato began her storytelling career in 1981 at a lecture event, as part of a nationwide working women’s gathering in which she participated.

She told her personal experience of losing her husband, her two children, and 11 relatives in the Battle of Okinawa. She has spent about 40 years conveying the tragedies of war to her audiences.

Asato has received many requests from all over Japan inviting her to come and tell her stories. She has been everywhere from Hokkaido through Kyushu, and has managed as many as three storytelling events in a day. In recent years, in consideration of her physical health, her aides have added breaks into her schedule. Although the number of her events declined, she felt strongly about continuing to tell her stories.

More than 20 years after Okibe Junior High School in Osaka Prefecture started taking field trips to hear Asato’s stories, students from the school took a field trip on May 16 to listen to her.

Mitsuo Matsunaga, 65, a long-time aide to Asato, told the students about Asato’s personal experiences. Asato took the mic from time to time to repeat her strong warning to the students: “Let’s make sure a battle like this never, ever happens again.”

The students showered her with gratitude and said if they were ever offered to come see her again, they would jump at the chance.

One 14-year-old student who heard Asato’s stories said, “I want to convey the things I have studied so far and the stories I have heard today to my juniors.” Another student, also 14, stated, “I am thinking about what each of us can do for peace, and I would like to collaborate.”

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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