It is easy to spot Jack Ito and his wife Toshie. They’re walking hand in hand around the lobby of the Prince Hotel in Shinagawa, looking as much culture-shocked as in love.
The Itos have traveled from Asahi, a small town near Choshi in Chiba Prefecture by bus, a journey of two hours. But since neither are strangers to rising early, there’s no problem, they say. They come to Tokyo so rarely, it’s all quite an adventure and Toshie can’t wait to hit the shops.
Jack Ito — who took his wife’s family name because she is an only child (“and anyway I like it better than my own, Martin”) — has been in Japan since January. Now he lives with Toshie, her two teenage boys from a former marriage and her parents. “The house is not so big so she converted the garage for us before I arrived.”
To say he is dealing with a lot of adjustment is an understatement. Apart from Toshie, who is fluent, none of the family speak English, and Ito’s Japanese is still rudimentary.
There is also the problem that with clever stepsons raring to go to university, he needs to make a living. In the meantime, Toshie is spending 10 hours a day entering data for a car company.
But Ito is determined to stand on his own two feet. “Right now I’m focusing on relationship coaching by phone, with a toll-free number for American and Canadian clients. Being an accredited coach with many years’ experience as a clinical psychologist, I’m hardly starting from scratch and if I want to establish a practice here as I had in Pennsylvania, I accept there’s a lot of work ahead.”
Ito has spent his life on the move. Born in rural Vermont, however, he remembers a childhood spent playing with his dog, and the outrage when small town Newfane erected a traffic signal. “There was so much controversy, it had to be taken down.”
From dreaming of being an actor and a comedian he moved on to surgery. Not a good idea he laughs in retrospect: “I faint at the sight of blood.” Instead, he went on to study psychology, starting in Pennsylvania and ending up on the far side of the U.S. (via a stint in the Midwest Bible Belt) in San Diego, where he found students too unaccepting of his ideas about preserving marriages.
“If I had to name three role models in my life they’d be Bob Newhart’s portrayal of a psychologist, child psychologist Fred Rogers and Billy Graham. Yes, I am pro-family, and Christian, but I work with people of all beliefs.”
His working approach is close to that of Dr. Rogers, who as a child psychologist and minister emphasized careful listening. “I listen to what people really want and help them get it. The power of coaching is in teamwork, not telling people what to do.”
Ito specialized in marriage counseling for years but has now made the transition to coaching. All thanks to his relationship with Toshie.
“At one point I had 30 cultural e-pals, mainly from Japan. After a year there were just five, and I came to Japan to visit them. My wife only ever had one e-pal: me.”
The couple communicated for three years and met three times a year, a week at a time. Toshie would visit the U.S., Ito would visit Japan. ” We took turns. We knew we wanted to be together permanently, and although her English is fluent, I chose to come here because her parents and her boys’ lives are here.”
To make the move, Ito had to close the practice he had built up in Pennsylvania: Olive Branch Counseling Services. Here he offered not only marital and pre-marital counseling, but individual counseling, child and adolescent counseling and psychological evaluations for international adoptions.
But he had already started effecting changes. “I’d been talking with a client back in 2006 who wanted to change his career. What would it take for me to make a move, I wondered. Was it money? Could I be bought? So I put a figure up on the Internet and found I could (be bought).” Money that came in very useful in making the move to Japan.
Ito spent a year working with the U.S. military’s Post Deployment Health Reassessment Program in Washington State. The need is immense, he says, for those returning from deployment in places like Iraq.
He has since looked into how he might help the U.S. military in Japan, but since there are no bases anywhere near where he lives, and he’s unwilling to spend a night away from Toshie, he’s choosing to develop his work in a home-based direction.
So, relationship coaching by phone.
“Offering a trial session and a regular newsletter to build credibility, my clients are mainly women but I’m happy to work with men too.”
He says that if we can find the right partner and get married, have a great relationship and a great life, well that is wonderful. But if a client — a woman say — is looking for a partner and having trouble, Ito asks her to describe and define her idea of a great partner. And then consider what a man like that would want in a woman? “We then work on those qualities, to give her a better chance.”
Most people choose a partner who meets their needs. Once the need is met, the relationship starts to falter unless they have other ways to continue growth. It’s like having an itch and finding someone who will scratch it for you. The relationship can become a treadmill. ”
A relationship does not have to be like that, he advocates. Most clients come to him because they are stuck in the belief that the man has to change in order for the relationship to move on. But the truth is that when the woman starts making changes, one of two things happens: The partner will start to change to keep up, or the couple fly apart because they were a poor match from the start.
“Miserable people are often a good match for each other,” he adds smiling. “One doesn’t talk and one doesn’t listen.”
Ito recalls a married woman of 10 years with two children. Classic case. She was very unhappy because her husband appeared not to be interested in her at all.
“So I turned up the pain. You know, threw the frog into boiling water instead of raising the heat so slowly it didn’t notice?” Asked her to imagine her life five years on, 10 years on, see how the marriage would surely end one way or another if she remained stuck.” What she did was go out and start doing things outside the home and kids. She became energized and more attractive. Her husband’s interest was rekindled.
“Make even quite small changes and partners will change in positive ways. If you continue a current strategy, the choices being made will keep you in the mud. You know, if a car has a problem, you have to fix it to get it back on the road. That is when clinical psychology helps; it’s like putting the car into the garage to be mended.
“Coaching on the other hands helps before the car breaks down or goes into the ditch, when it’s simply going round in circles. People need to change as a couple, but someone has to take the lead and go first.”
Coming from a background that does not readily accept divorce, makes Ito work hard to keep couples together and relationships growing. But he also acknowledges that all work and no play could turn Jack into a very dull boy. So he is embracing the fact he lives so near the sea, plans to take up surfing and recently went deep sea fishing.
“I thought I was just going out for a nice relaxing boat trip. But, oh, that sea, those waves. I have never felt so alive!”