Keiro Superstar: Satoko Yamamura

Never Too Late for a New Passion

Satoko Yamamura is a 90-year-old accomplished painter who spends two to three hours a day on her work. Years of practice have helped her hone her skills in sketching, calligraphy, acrylic and oil, but watercolor is her favorite.

She loves watching the delicate colors and how they flow on paper. Her passion for painting is a one of the reasons she believes it’s never too late to start something new and to live a genki life. Her desire now is to never stop painting.

satoko and the painting
Satoko with her Painting displayed at Nikkei Senior Gardens

For Satoko, her years as a mother, a wife, and now as a painter, have taught her to value both health and safety in helping her maintain her genki lifestyle. And that sense of safety can take many shapes. She especially values the friendships and relationships she has built here, which act as her support system since much of her family still lives in Japan. She looks forward to Karaoke Mondays – two hours each week to sing and laugh with her friends as a way to strengthen their companionship.

Even with a strong network of support with her friends, Satoko knows that a genki lifestyle isn’t without its challenges. Her arthritis keeps her from doing more intricate things like crafting, but she’s always learning new ways to protect her health and wellness. In order to help manage her health conditions, she makes an effort to attend as many Keiro presentations as possible at the Nikkei Senior Gardens retirement community in Arleta, where she now lives.

The Art of Staying Genki

Satoko discovered her passion for art at age 64, when she enrolled in art classes at Moorpark, Oxnard, and Ventura colleges.

“I remember I was the only older one in class,” she says, pointing to herself and smiling. “I was with young people, like 16- and 17-year-olds … but I was doing so well. I was fine.”

In the years that followed, Satoko painted flowers, garden scenes, landscapes, and memories from Japan. Her work has been featured in a number of exhibits, including the Doyon Studio & Gallery in Camarillo.

Local newspaper article about her painting

A source of inspiration for her art comes from the occasional long hikes she takes with her daughter in Santa Barbara, Point Mugu, and Sycamore Canyon. On these hikes, she takes pictures of flowers or landscapes to use as ideas for her next art piece. In fact, whenever or wherever she travels, Satoko always snaps a photo for inspiration.

Enjoying a Good Walk and Good Food

In the mornings she exercises, often with Hiromi, a friend and fellow resident at the Nikkei Senior Gardens. She uses the stationary bike, participates in tai chi, gentle stretching, and any activity scheduled for the day. She says that 103-year-old Hiromi reminds her of her sister back in Hiroshima, who is now 102 years old.

“I also walk whenever I can,” Satoko says, with a thumbs up. “I always walk to my room, and never use the elevator. It’s a good distance.”

Satoko and Hiromi attending Keiro class
Attending Keiro classes with Hiromi

When she learned about exercising and its importance, she applied it to her life. The artist and dedicated walker has also been golfing several times a week for more than 20 years. She adds that eating well and cooking are important too.

“I love to cook. I made sakura mochi here,” Satoko says, adding that sakura blossoms are planted along the buildings at Nikkei Senior Gardens. After taking a sakura mochi class, she loves making the special, sweet treat, along with baking cakes, cookies, and other confections as well.

Remembering Accomplishments and Welcoming New Challenges

To Satoko, her greatest life accomplishment is her husband, Ken, and the life they built together. He was a childhood friend, living just down the street from her in Hiroshima, where she was born and raised.

In 1945, she and her family survived the atomic bomb that was dropped on her hometown. The hem of her skirt whispered at her ankles at the very moment the bomb fell, just miles from her family’s shelter. It is a day she remembers vividly.

In spite of the tragedy she witnessed and the trauma she experienced, Satoko worked tirelessly with her husband until they found their way to California when he began to work with the U.S. government.

Satoko smiling

Ken graduated from college, found a good job, helped raise their two daughters, and worked to give her a safe and stable life. That, to her, is a lifelong accomplishment.

Looking towards her future, Satoko hopes to discover new passions and take on as many new challenges as she can find. But for now, she will continue to paint.