“People around us tell us that we’re like meoto-manzai (stand up comedians). We’re always surrounded by laughter,” says Atsuko Nonogaki Planeta, 43.
“We’re talking all the time. I never get bored,” Paolo Planeta, from Genoa, Italy, adds.
Paolo, 37, and Atsuko met in Tokyo at a networking party in September 2006. They dated for just over a year, and got married in November 2007.
After the wedding, both of Atsuko’s parents suddenly got ill and passed away. Paolo supported her and the family throughout the whole process, trying to make the family laugh even at times of suffering.
Atsuko, originally from Kanagawa Prefecture, is a freelance organizer of seminars and music concerts, and Paolo is director of the Japan office of a Genoa-based vessel-equipment maker. He also manages the firm’s South Korean operation.
Since childhood, Paolo grew up with Japanese toys, and was a big fan of anime (animation) and manga. He came to Japan for the first time on a holiday in 2003, and having fallen in love with the lifestyle, decided to live and work in Tokyo. He persuaded his employer in Genoa to start an operation in Japan, and came to Tokyo in 2006 to prepare for its launch.
The couple live in one of Tokyo’s shitamachi (old town) areas, and look forward to carrying the mikoshi (portable shrine) at a local festival every summer.
What prompted you to marry?
Atsuko: It happened quite fast. A month after we met each other, Paolo’s mother came to Tokyo and the three of us had dinner together. Mama asked me, “So when can I meet your parents?” I said, “Isn’t it a bit too early for that?” When Paolo translated it into Italian, mama got red with fury. “I’m here in Tokyo now, and the next time I come is the wedding reception,” she said. Everything was scheduled already. For us, it was like, “Let’s not get mama upset,” so we followed her desire.
What was the proposal like?
Atsuko: It happened during our visit to Genoa in March 2007. One day, we went out drinking with friends. Paolo was heavily drunk and his tie was nearly off. When we returned to Paolo’s apartment, mama called Paolo into the kitchen. He started to straighten his tie and looked really nervous. Mama told me to sit on the sofa, and I saw mama pass the ring box to Paolo. He kneeled in a formal way and said, “Will you marry me?” Mama was already in tears, and we were surrounded by his friends, who were full of excitement and joy. They had this look on their faces that expected me to say, “Yes.” How could I say, “Let me have some time to think about it and reply later?” So I said, “Yes.”
Paolo: That was my seppuku time. My mother had already prepared the marriage ring, and she used the alcohol (for me to propose).
What was the wedding like?
Atsuko: We registered the marriage in Tokyo and had two wedding receptions, one in Tokyo and the other in Naples (where Paolo’s mother lives.) The one in Tokyo was held at the wedding reception hall City Club of Tokyo in Minato Ward. Paolo’s mother and his best friend who lives in Singapore came.
Paolo: I remember it was fun when Atsuko and I gave a speech to our parents. We don’t have this kind of speech in Italy. Atsuko did a long speech and cried, but her parents looked very serious. When she finished, it was my turn. I told Atsuko to look, turned to mama and said, “Mama, grazie (thank-you)!” Mama immediately burst into tears.
Atsuko: I couldn’t move my parents with my long speech. In Naples, when we walked from the house to the restaurant (neaby), there was a line of cars to see us (especially to see Atsuko in kimono), and we were congratulated by the honk of cars.
Paolo: The wedding reception in Napoli was eight hours long. In an Italian wedding reception, there’s no particular schedule, but you have time to do everything. To enjoy food, talk with people, and listen to someone’s speech. Wedding reception in Japan is expensive and stressful. Atsuko was introducing everybody to the other, and for me, it was no different from a business meeting.
Do you feel any cultural difference in everyday life?
Paolo: Yes, a lot. For example, I don’t know if this is a cultural difference, but Atsuko is always thinking about the community. She tells me not to talk loud after midnight in the balcony. “You surprise other people,” she says. “You live in Japan, so you have to follow the rules!” She’s like Rottenmeier (a strict butler in the anime “Heidi”)!
For Atsuko, first, there’s the world, then there’s the husband, so it’s very stressful sometimes.
Atsuko: (To Paolo) You need someone to supervise you! Another cultural difference is that one time, Paolo couldn’t eat something that I cooked. It was eryngii (king trumpet) mushrooms cooked with scallops. For him, it’s unbelievable to combine seafood with something from the mountains.
What do you like about each other?
Paolo: She’s definitely a good person. Sometimes even too much.
She’s very sweet, pretty smart, and honest. I also find her very sexy even with her age.
Atsuko: I admire him because his sense of value is always precise and stable. He says something and always realizes it. For example, he says that he wants to buy a house at the beginning of the year, and at the end of the year, we have a house. Also, he is very affectionate, and tries to communicate a lot with me, which is wonderful.