Seniors from Kawasaki, Japan, entertain, find common ground with local peers

The Baltimore Sun

This month, listed Japan as one of the "best places to be a senior citizen" for that country's stellar treatment of its older residents.

The Japanese government spends lavishly on health care, the Web site says. Businesses are investing in technology -- such as robot dogs -- to keep seniors from feeling lonely. And convenience stores and supermarkets have made price tags larger so that elderly shoppers can see them better.

But a group of visitors from Kawasaki, Baltimore's sister city near Tokyo, learned yesterday that we do at least one thing better on this side of the world: senior centers.

"Ohhhhh, this senior center," said Osamu Ojima, 71, looking around the Edward A. Myerberg Senior Center in Northwest Baltimore. "It is very beautiful and modern. This institution is very good."

Ojima and his group of performers from the Tama Senior Club Chorus and Dancing Teams were astounded by the 16,000- square-foot Myerberg Center, with its 2.2 acres, vaulted ceilings, enormous windows, art rooms and comfortable adjacent living quarters.

In Japan, Ojima said, most seniors live with family members until they die. And the relatively few senior centers that he knows of are much smaller, he said, with far fewer amenities.

'High society'

Through a translator, Ojima called Baltimore's senior centers "high society."

Senior citizens from four area centers came by the busload yesterday to meet the elderly performers of the Tama Senior Club and share cookies and chopped fruit.

To show their thanks, the Japanese visitors sang, danced and presented Mayor Sheila Dixon with gifts of origami.

The main goal of the daylong visit, which was organized by the city's Baltimore-Kawasaki Sister City Committee, was to have each group of seniors learn from one another.

"If we keep sharing, and if we keep learning, we'll never get old," Dixon said after praising the 30-year partnership between Baltimore and Kawasaki.

The language barrier made conversation between the two groups difficult, but the half-hour choral performance helped them understand each other, said Pola Glazer, 88.

"I think the music really speaks to your heart," she said.

At the end of the visit, a few local seniors and a handful of Japanese singers and dancers tried, with the help of a translator, to talk.

Initially, their chat was all politeness and little else.

"The singers were beautiful," said Lenke Ostreicher, 83, who lives next door to the center at Weinberg Woods Senior Housing. "The dancing was beautiful."

Pleased, the performers bowed in their chairs and thanked her -- many, many times.


Those kinds of pleasantries continued for some time, until Samuel Trewik, 87, pulled from his wallet a universal ice-breaker: pictures of his wife, Sar, who died six years ago.

Passing around his photographs turned the conversation to the topic of friendship, which was what city organizers wanted.

Ojima asked Trewik about his service as a merchant marine during World War II. After the war, Ojima said, he understood that American and Japanese men once played a game of baseball together, using the sport to heal and build relationships.

"They wanted to come here to bring singing and dancing to you as a way to bring friendship," said the translator, Alfred Griffin, who is president of the International Exchange Institute.

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