STILLWATER, Okla. —
Spinning tales thousands of years old, Hiroko Fujita is traveling from Japan to return March 30 for another storytelling engagement in Stillwater. The grandmother retired from touring several years ago but was persuaded to entertain for one more performance.
“Fujita san has captivated Stillwater students and their families since 1995,” said retired Stillwater Public School teacher Nancy Simpson. “In 2008, the city’s Mayor Roger McMillan proclaimed her “Storyteller Extraordinaire of Stillwater.”
Fujita developed her storytelling skills through years of practice and study. When she was a young child during war time, her family was evacuated from the town of Miharu to live in the rural mountains of Fukushima. There she learned many ancient folktales from her neighborhood farmer, Takeda Kuni, and village elders. Some of the stories have never been written in books.
“Fujita san knows more than 300 stories and almost any topic prompts a story . . . a willow tree, a foolish child, an animal, a Japanese tradition,” Simpson said. “Many of the toys or props she uses in her stories are created through recycling efforts.”
For more than 40 years, Fujita taught kindergarten children eventually becoming a lecturer for teachers with a special interest in young handicapped children. Retired now, she and her husband live in Kashiwa City, Chiba Prefecture, Japan. Since the devastating damage from the 2011 tsunami, Fujita spends much of her time traveling to Fukushima to tell stories to the children there who still are allowed only minimal time outdoors, Simpson said. In her work, Fujita is not only preserving Japanese lore but the unique dialect of rural Fukushima prefecture.
“You may wonder how you will understand a Japanese storytelling,” Simpson said. “Fran Stallings, a Bartlesville storyteller, travels with Mrs. Fujita.”
Stallings provides a brief synopsis of the story in English with any cultural information to help the listener. Each visit, they tell some well-loved familiar stories and new tales, too. Some of Fujita’s stories have been collected and published in more than a dozen books including “Stories to Play With.” The subtitle of the book is “Kids’ Tales told with Puppets, Paper, Toys and Imagination.”
“With Mrs. Fujita’s expressive style — lively gestures, facial expressions and vocal intonations — and clever props, listeners are enthralled and find themselves wrapped up in the story and never notice that it is mostly told in Japanese,” Simpson said. “You will readily understand the antics of Fujita san’s characters!”
The Stillwater Sister Cities Council, under the direction of Larry Jones, helps welcome Fujita when she visits Stillwater. Over the years, she has become a “tomodachi” — friend to many local teachers and families.
“Mrs. Fujita recognizes the importance of passing on the stories of our families. Part of why she tells stories is to encourage others to share their stories. Unless we do, as the older folks pass on, their stories are lost. Sharing our own stories with others builds community — helps folks understand each other. This applies to ‘foreign’ cultures as well as people who see each other every Sunday,” Simpson said. “By sharing her culture with us, she helps celebrate our cultural roots, too.”
If you go
WHAT: Enjoy a free hearty vegetable soup dinner with ice cream for dessert and stay for traditional Japanese storytelling.
WHEN: March 30 with 5 p.m. dinner and 6-7 p.m. entertainment
WHERE: First Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall and Sanctuary
RESERVATIONS: Call 405-372-5580 or email stillwaterFPCrsvp@gmail.com. Dinner and entertainment free. Bring a topping for ice cream if you want to contribute to the meal.
MORE INFORMATION: 405-880-5306