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For couple, home is where the heart is

by Mami Maruko

Andrew Pickard, 42, from Leeds in northern England, and Kayoko Hirayama, 35, of Tokyo, met seven years ago at an aikido dojo in Tokyo.

For about two years they were just friends, and sometimes went out drinking with a group of people from the dojo.

When Andrew changed jobs, he got too busy for aikido, so they didn’t see each other for three years. They contacted each other again through a mutual friend, and the three of them were supposed to meet up together. But the friend canceled, and on that day Andrew told Kayoko about his plan to build a house in Tokyo as he gained permanent residency in Japan. Kayoko and her mother helped Andrew find some land, and Andrew decided on Nerima Ward — close to where Kayoko’s parents lived.

Initially Andrew thought he would live on his own, but gradually as they got to know each other and started dating, they decided to live together. Three weeks after moving into the new house, they got married on Nov. 3, 2009. They live on the second and third floors of the three-story house and rent the first floor to two tenants.

Andrew arrived in Tokyo 12 years ago and first worked as an English teacher, and then as an editor at an investor relations firm. He has since changed jobs several times and now works as the financial editor at a foreign securities firm. Kayoko, after taking on several jobs at hotels and restaurants, worked for a marketing research company for five years but quit last summer. She is currently between jobs.

What was the proposal like?

Kayoko: When we were dating, I was waiting for him to propose, but I had the feeling that he was looking for the right timing and the right place. It seemed like he wanted to propose to me in a romantic place.

Andrew: I wanted to propose in a natural surrounding. Actually, I tried several times but kept failing, often due to bad weather.

I first tried on Ishigaki Island (in Okinawa Prefecture), but when I was about to propose, Kayoko said she wanted to get back to the hotel as it was getting dark and she was feeling cold.

The second time was when we went to Mount Komagatake in Hakone. We got the cable car, and I planned to propose when we reached the peak, but the fog got really bad and we couldn’t find the path to the summit.

I had to give up on the idea of proposing then.

Kayoko: Andrew finally succeeded in proposing to me the third time round, when we were sitting on the grass at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden last year. It was a hot sunny day in August.

How did your parents react to the marriage?

Andrew: My father was quite happy. (Andrew’s mother died when he was 27.) When I turned 40, he often said it was about time I got married. He had nothing against an international marriage.

Kayoko: On my side, dad was making quite a fuss. He asked Andrew many, many times whether he was thinking of going back to England. He was very anxious, and repeatedly asked Andrew what he was really planning.

In the end, he was convinced after my mom told him that there was no need to worry, because we had built a house in Tokyo, very near our parents’ house. My parents were touched by his sincerity.

Andrew and my parents have a very good relationship now. For example, Andrew made “umeboshi” (dried pickled plums) with my mom this year. I use the umeboshi in the “onigiri” (rice ball) I make for Andrew to take to work every day.

What kind of wedding did you have?

Kayoko: We didn’t have a wedding, but we had a big wedding party in September with about 100 guests at Waterline (a floating deck on the canal at Tennozu Isle).

Andrew: My two older brothers came all the way from Australia and Sweden. Kayoko’s parents as well as her twin brothers were there, too.

What language do you speak to each other?

Kayoko: Almost 100 percent Japanese.

Andrew: We speak mostly Japanese, although Kayoko’s English is very good.

Do you find any cultural differences in your marriage?

Kayoko: Maybe food. Andrew loves potatoes, and he often wants to eat non-Japanese food, especially Indian curry.

Andrew: I don’t feel any cultural differences, maybe because I’ve been here for a long time. I feel more difference in the families that we were brought up in. Kayoko has a big family, where everyone is very close, whereas I lived on my own for a long time.

What is your dream for the future?

Andrew: I would like us to have two kids. Maybe three. But I also want to retire as early as possible, and enjoy a peaceful life. I want to spend more time with Kayoko but also to have more free time for myself, too.

Kayoko: I would like to live in the countryside and grow our own vegetables, so that we can get close to a self-sufficient lifestyle. But this is a dream for when we are much older. Right now I’m happy just the way we are.

It would be nice if we have more money, but right now Andrew makes me happy. We have good health, a house and our families, and I think that is enough.