Vincent Marx, 47, from the U.S. state of Washington, and his wife Emiko, a Tokyo native, first met at a juvenile detention center in Seattle in 1992.
Emiko, now 42, was then a senior at the University of Washington who had transferred from Keio University in Tokyo the year before. With a major in sociology, she was writing her thesis on juvenile delinquency. Her Japanese roommate offered to help her out with the paper by introducing Emiko to her friend, Vincent, who was a teacher at the detention center.
One day, Emiko visited the center to talk with Vincent and set up another appointment for the following week — to come back and interview some students there.
The following weekend, Vincent called Emiko to remind her about their next meeting — and in the same conversation craftily slipped in a request for a date at the movies. Vincent found time to help her with her thesis, and Emiko visited his family to attend his niece’s baptism — which brought them closer together.
Two months later, Emiko went to Oregon to visit her host family from high school, and the couple was apart for two weeks. On the day that Emiko returned from her trip, Vincent proposed to her at the bus stop where he went to pick her up. Six months later, the couple got married in a church in Seattle.
After shuttling back and forth between Seattle and Tokyo twice in the last 18 years — and Vincent changing jobs several times — the couple now lives in Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward.
What do you do for a living?
Vincent: I have a part-time job as a teacher and writer of English teaching materials at an English school for children in Shinjuku Ward. I had several books published in Japan that are related to English learning. My other job is at a large cram school, where I teach English to junior high and high school kids. I’m certified to be a principal from prekindergarten through 12th grade, but I don’t want to become a principal. I like my job.
Emiko: I was a bank teller when we lived in Seattle. Now, I’m a freelance translator, and I mainly help Vincent and my brother with their jobs.
How did your parents react to the marriage?
Emiko: Actually, I couldn’t tell my family. When we decided (to get married), I called my family and Vincent was beside me. I was going to tell my mother, but the words didn’t come out. I couldn’t tell my sister, either.
So I just passed the phone to Vincent, and he told my sister. (Her sister speaks English, and she had already met Vincent when she visited Emiko in Seattle.) She told my mother and she was happy. Then, she told my father, but he said, “No, I have to meet him. I won’t say yes until I meet him.” So I took Vincent to Japan during the Christmas holidays, and that was when he met my parents for the first time. And my father liked him.
Vincent: My mom was happy. (Vincent’s father passed away when he was 16) I’m from a big family and my family is very accepting.
Do you feel any cultural differences in everyday life?
Vincent: Yes (almost at the same time as Emiko). For example, hugging and holding hands in public. Normally, Emiko is very shy about that.
Emiko: Since he mentioned about hugging, my family doesn’t do a lot of touching. Otherwise, I don’t feel any cultural differences.
How do you feel about your partner’s country?
Emiko: I like Seattle. I was happy with the life and weather there.
Vincent: In America — at least in Seattle or smaller towns, there’s a more casual culture. Emiko’s more casual. She’s not into putting on lots of makeup or a nice dress or a suit.
Emiko: I feel more uncomfortable with my own family. My parents say “You’re supposed to be this way and that way” a lot, and I get tired. When we visit them together, they say those things even to Vincent.
Vincent: Luckily, I’m usually easygoing about it. There’s been times when there’s been some conflict, but not recently.
We moved to Japan, because I wanted to get to know (Emiko’s) family and the culture. I like Japan a lot and things have gone quite nicely since.
What are the advantages of having a partner from a foreign country?
Emiko: One advantage is that you can make a connection with a far away, foreign country — and you (and your family) can visit that country.
Also, you can be exposed to different values and open up your mind more. I think it would have been so much different if I’d stayed with my family in Japan. I think it would have made me a small, closed-minded person.
Vincent: For me, just being in Japan has been a very interesting experience. For example, next week, I’m going to carry mikoshi (portable shrine) in a matsuri (festival). In Japan, there are so many cultural things that are unique and interesting. In Seattle, there aren’t so many things like that.
Being a foreigner in Japan is sometimes almost being like a celebrity. If I’m in America, I’m just another American. If I’m in Japan, I stand out a bit. If you like attention, that’s definitely an advantage.
What is your dream for the future?
Vincent: I want to support myself and Emiko with my writing so I can be free to move to Seattle in the summers. I hate the summers here, because it’s too hot. I want to be mobile eventually. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, even when I was a little kid.
Emiko: I don’t really know what I want to do. My father became ill right before we came back to Japan. Since then, he’s been sick and my mother is taking care of him at home. I’ve been helping my mother for the last three years, because we live close to them.
I don’t know what I’m doing right now. I liked working at the bank in Seattle. I think I did well — I liked talking to the customers, and I made lots of friends. I really miss that.
Vincent: That’s why my mobility goal is so important, where we can have two houses — one in Seattle and another here.
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