Alaska Japan Japanese Palmer Saroma

Saroma’s Long Life University

A version of this article appears in the current Palmer-Saroma Sister City newsletter.

As in most of Japan, Saroma’s population includes a large number of senior citizens.  The town Social Education Department organizes a continuing education seminar for these seniors.  This meets twice a month and each session lasts an entire day.  It’s called Kotobuki Daigaku, meaning “Long Life University.”  One daylong session features a morning speaker who addresses the entire group of about 250 members.  After lunch the members break into small groups and focus on more specific topics such as dancing, calligraphy, park golf, personal computing and even karaoke.

For the first session of 2010, I was asked to be the morning speaker, which involved giving a 90 minute lecture entirely in Japanese.  Mr. Abe of the Social Ed. Dept. suggested I talk about Palmer and Saroma as sister cities.  I decided to focus on differences between the history and daily life of the two towns, as well as emphasize some of their similarities and the strong history of the sister city relationship. I also included some personal anecdotes about my impressions of life here in Saroma and how it differs from life back in Alaska.  I also tried to focus on what life is like for senior citizens in Palmer, showcasing some of the options for retirement homes in the Palmer area, and explaining the traditional arrangement between children and their parents regarding aging and caregiving.


Title Screen “Sister Cities: Palmer and Saroma”


Explaining my job (Assistant English Teacher) to the attendees.

I found it rather difficult to imagine what would pique the interests of 250 elderly Saromans.  When comparing Saroma and Palmer, things like population, geographic size and role of government are important but dull and difficult to explain.  Accordingly, I only touched briefly on these areas and instead focused on showing photos and telling a few stories.  I showed photos of Hatcher Pass, prize pumpkins and cabbages, and of my grandparents, Ray and Tiny DePriest.  My description of their 70 year history in Palmer running a dairy and hay farm really captured the audience’s attention.  No doubt many of those listening hold similar experiences of homesteading and rural farming here in Saroma over the past half century.

Thanks to a few anecdotes and personal observations about daily life in Japan and America, a few times the room was full of laughter.  The audience found it very interesting that in Alaska there is no requirement for senior citizens to place special magnets on their cars showing that they are a new or elderly driver.  That the legal driving limit for blood alcohol content is 0.08% also astonished; In Japan, the legal limit is 0.00%.  That we customarily tip at restaurants, have elections on Tuesdays and not Sundays, and build gasoline stations and convenience stores together as part of the same business were also surprising to them.  The fact that it is the students in American schools who move from classroom to classroom, not the teachers as it is in Japan, elicited “oohh” and “eehhh!” from the attendees.  I also had to show them a map and quote some distance figures to convince them that Saroma really is closer to Palmer than Palmer is to New York City or Washington D.C.


“Scenery of Palmer.” Photo taken on Lazy Mountain, Summer 2003.

After running through some photos and basic information about Palmer’s retirement homes and the services of the Palmer Senior Center, I concluded the presentation with a five question quiz, on which the audience scored full marks.  Questions included “Which is the rarest color of aurora?” (red), “Up to how many kilograms can a moose weigh?” (about 800), and “Which of the following are NOT in Palmer: airport, golf course, tennis courts, or hot spring?” (there is no hot spring, unfortunately; this seemed to disappoint the audience as hot springs surround Saroma and are one of the great cultural bounties of Japan).

Hopefully, my presentation made sense. By the good quiz score, I think it did.  The elderly community in Saroma should now be able to talk authoritatively about many aspects of Palmer history and daily life.  It was a good experience to be able to introduce my own town and culture from my peculiar perspective as a resident of Saroma and the Japanese culture.  And I was lucky to have an interested audience, who rarely have the chance to consider things like Alaskan history, American gas stations or the weight of a moose.


Who’s this guy?

5 replies on “Saroma’s Long Life University”

I like the suit! Hopefully the elder citizens of Saroma will glean that Palmer residents are fashionable in addition to being excellent farmers of ridiculously sized produce. I can’t tell from the picture, but did you Bic your head? Have you ever tried that? I bet it would look cool. Especially when you throw in the 3-button suit.

I have shaved my head. I did it back in December before going to Australia, and did it again just last week after I realized I would rather have a manageable amount of short hair for free than have a manageable amount of slightly longer hair for a price and a trip to the barber. And, for full disclosure, this is pretty much the only time I ever look fashionable in Saroma.

Yeah, looks cool. It does look like you shaved your head, but I’m betting you just have a hairline like mine.

Also – is this how you’re planning on doing that project you were talking to me about? Or is a more in-depth process still in the works?

This is unrelated to that project I mentioned, although it covers some of the same bases. That other project is still being worked on. I have to determine my scope and what exactly I am trying to get across, and to whom.

at a big physics conference last week in portland, I had to give a 10 minute presentation on work that I had been doing for a year to an audience who all had more experience in the field then i did. I was nervous and stressed to a beyond reasonable level given the short duration of the talk.

I can’t imagine giving a 90 minute lecture in another language. I would have trouble doing that in English. and from the difficulty i’m having learning korean, the idea seems even more intimidating.

I am really impressed that you were able to keep old japanese people interested for 90 minutes in their native language. the more i find out how hard it is to learn korean, which is probably much easier then learning japanese, the more respect i have for you 🙂

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