What started as talk story sessions for University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) participants, turned into a national virtual “tour” for a prominent Hawaiʻi-born storyteller.
OLLI Director Carole Mandryk heard of the story “Pigs from the Sea,” which is based on the devastated people of Okinawa receiving a gift of aloha from the Hawaiʻi people after World War II. However, she had not heard Alton Takiyama-Chung’s version. She reached out to him and quickly learned that he would be happy to share his stories with her OLLI members.
OLLI and Takiyama-Chung
Housed in the College of Social Sciences and administered through UH Foundation, OLLI is member-based, encouraging lifelong learning to engage minds, enrich lives and serve the community. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mandryk transitioned many activities online and recently expanded to more than 40 non-credit, college-level courses, workshops, lectures and other learning activities.
Takiyama-Chung is a Honolulu native and master storyteller. He specializes in sharing cultural tales and personal stories related to his childhood in Hawaiʻi, and his Japanese and Korean roots. In the months before the COVID-19 pandemic, Takiyama-Chung performed and taught in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Seattle and Oregon. His two exclusive online summer workshops to OLLI members in June and early July were on telling your own stories and the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Since then, Mandryk has shared his talents with other OLLI networks nationwide, and Takiyama-Chung has made virtual presentations through events hosted by organizations in Hawaiʻi, Oregon and Washington, D.C. Mandryk said the interest has been overwhelming.
Claudia Kamiyama said, “I’ve been watching all these performances since our workshop with Alton and telling everyone about him. The stories really touch a special place with me, since I’ve been researching my Chinese ancestors who have been in Hawaiʻi since the 1880s and before, and my Okinawan ancestors since the early 1900s.”
Karen St. Onge commented, “I truly enjoyed Alton Chung’s storytelling, and feel it is truly an art to be able to bring people to the actual scene, and draw his listeners to invoke emotions.”
Jean Hamakawa called the talks “very moving and informative.”
For Takiyama-Chung, an unforgettable moment came during a workshop when he taught participants how to share their own stories.
“The most memorable moment for me was when I saw how much fun people were having in my workshop,” Takiyama-Chung said. “It was that ‘Aha!’ moment, when they shared a little story from their life with someone else, realized that the other person was engaged, that it was easy, and that they were having a good time.”
You can still watch online talks by Takiyama-Chung available to the public. They include:
- Shivery Tales and Gentle Spookies: Tales of Ghosts and Things that Go Bump in the Night; July 23, 11 a.m.–noon HST; register here.
- Folktales from Around the World; August 6, 11 a.m.–noon HST; register here.
- The Grapevine Storytelling Online; August 12, 1:30–2:30 p.m. HST; register here.
Takiyama-Chung’s talks contributed to OLLI’s main goal during the COVID-19 pandemic of expanding its diverse set of online learning and resources for its community of adults ages 50 and above. When quarantine and physical distancing measures went into effect, Mandryk said most members welcomed the virtual shift and she felt it was important to provide a social experience.
“We avoided providing recorded lectures, as our members were not just missing cognitive stimulation but social interaction,” Mandryk said. “People really looked forward to all the opportunities to engage.”