Ryukyu Mura poster girl who sings, dances, and plays the sanshin says she is “only 100” and that the source of health is to smile often

Ryukyu Mura poster girl who sings, dances, and plays the sanshin says she is “only 100” and that the source of health is to smile often

Umeto Yamashiro expressing joy with Kachashi dance, a 1.8 liter sake bottle (issyobin) balanced on her head, on September 16 at the day service center Ikiru Ie in Toya, Yomitan

September 20, 2020 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Chie Tome

(Yomitan) On September 16, a birthday party for Umeto Yamashiro, age 99, of Owan, Yomitan, who is active as the “poster girl” for the Okinawa tourism theme park “Ryukyu Mura” in Onna, was held at the day service center “Ikiru Ie” in Toya, Yomitan to celebrate her 100th birthday according to the traditional Japanese age-counting system. Yamashiro played the tones of the sanshin herself during the opening Kagiyadefu performance, and during the climax Kachashi dance she danced gracefully with a 1.8 liter sake bottle (Issyo bin) balanced on her head. “I’m only 100. I always feel like I’m 20. I’m right in the midst of my youth!” Yamashiro said with a carefree smile, bringing smiles and laughter to everyone’s face.

Yamashiro was born on September 20, 1921, and was raised in Zakimi, Yomitan. She says that she was very introverted in her youth and had a shy personality. She experienced the Battle of Okinawa when she was 24 years old. She was pregnant during the war, and took refuge in Yambaru in the north with her younger siblings. Her eldest daughter was born in June, at the height of the battle. After the war, she worked at a retail store in Owan, Yomitan, and had two daughters and five sons.

Yamashiro has a vivacious willingness to challenge herself no matter her age. She started learning to play the sanshin at age 60, and got certified to teach classical Ryukyu music at age 80. She loves to study, and to this day is working on her Shimakutuba, dance, and calligraphy skills.

Yamashiro came to be “employed” at Ryukyu Mura in her 80s, when someone working there heard that there was a lively old woman in Yomitan who could sing, dance, play the sanshin, and speak Shimakutuba. She became famous overnight when she appeared in a TV commercial as the poster girl for the theme park, and she says she has been interviewed nine times by international media from places like Russia and the United States.

The smile never fades from Yamashiro’s face. She said that smiling is the source of good health, and expressed renewed enthusiasm for the future, saying, “I want to continue enjoying every day with a smile on my face.”

According to Takako Shimabukuro, representative of the center, Yamashiro gives various advice to the employees there as someone with a wealth of life experience. In particular, she always says, “don’t scold your children; praise them instead.” “I think it would be wonderful if I can grow old like Umeto. She is also a star of hope for the others here,” said Shimabukuro with a smile.

“She is so lively, I can hardly believe she is ten years my senior,” said Haru Yamauchi, age 90, of Nagahama, Yomitan, who also attends the center. “I want to follow Umeto’s example and live to an old age in good health.”

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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