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Storyteller Anne Shimojima talks about Japanese-American experience in WWII

Contributed • Jun 6, 2019 at 9:39 AM

Anne Shimojima, an expert teller of folk tales and the keeper of her family’s stories from World War II, recently came to Jonesborough for a week’s worth of matinee storytelling concerts.

In addition to her repertoire of folk tales from around the world, she has arrived to share her signature story, a difficult piece about what happened to her father’s side of the family in the U.S. during World War II.

“My father's parents, my grandparents, came to settle in Portland, Oregon and they had a grocery store,” she said. “So I talk about the family coming here and settling. My grandfather had his store for 35 years, and then Pearl Harbor happened. They had to leave everything in under two weeks. They lived in horse stalls that hadn't been cleaned out. They spent the entire summer there, and ended up in an incarceration camp behind barbed wire for the crime of looking like the enemy.”

Many Japanese-American families were held in these camps while their relatives served in World War II. Shimojima points out that an all-Japanese military unit was among the most decorated in the history of the United States military — an incredible act of service given what was happening to their families back at home.

It’s a dark story, and it’s one that has, for Shimojima and many of her listeners, taken on new resonance given the current political climate. “The country is in a different place than it was five years ago, so I feel like the story and what it represents has grown in importance,” she says But at the same time, the story helped Shimojima connect with her family as she was developing it — a priceless gift.

Her folk tale collection includes stories from China, Germany, the U.S., Korea, and India. But the majority of Shimojima’s stories are from Japan. “I would love to tell people that I grew up hearing stories at my grandmother's knee,” she says with a laugh. “But I did not. My grandma spoke Japanese and I spoke English.” Shimojima collected and shaped her family’s experiences and turned them into the basis of her work instead.

This will be Shimojima’s second storytelling residency in Jonesborough, and she said she couldn’t be looking forward to it more. “I'm so pleased to be able to come back again,” she says. “I just feel very grateful, so very grateful, to have the chance to spend some extended time in Jonesborough.”

Shimojima’s residency, which began June 4, will run until June 8, with reservations for all shows recommended, but not required. Tickets are $12 for adults, and $11 for seniors, students, and anyone under 18. Heavily discounted season passes are still available while supplies last. Each event begins at 2 p.m. at the International Storytelling Center. 

Exclusive discounts are available to all ticketholders. Ticket stubs will earn a 10 percent discount on same-day dining at Main Street Café (lunch only), Olde Towne Pancake House, Texas Burritos & More, Krazy Krepes, Jonesborough Barrel House, the Icing on the Cake (lunch only), and the Corner Cup. Additionally, Boone Street Market is offering 10 percent off prepared meals and 5 percent off any other purchase.

The premier sponsor of Storytelling Live! is Ballad Health. Additional program funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Niswonger Foundation, Eastman Credit Union, the Mooneyhan Family Foundation and Food City. Media sponsors include News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Herald & Tribune and Cumulus Media.

Storytelling Live! is a seasonal program that runs from April to October. The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information about Storytelling Live!, including the full 2019 line-up, or to purchase tickets and season passes, visit www.storytellingcenter.net or call 800-952-8392.

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