Yukiko Ariga, 39, a Tokyo native, visited Jamaica, where her friend was living, twice on holiday because she loved reggae music. Eventually, she decided that she wanted to do something different in her life, so she went to live and work in the Caribbean nation in 1998.
She worked as a secretary at Jamaica UCC Blue Mountain Coffee Co., where she met her future husband, Gregory Arnold, from St. Andrew, who was a sales manager there.
On the first day at her new job, the first phone call she received was coincidentally from Gregory. They met face to face for the first time on Yukiko’s birthday, and worked together on a team arranging the visit to Jamaica of the president of the Japanese parent company. They became closer, started dating and got married after 1½ years.
Later, due to problems at the workplace, Yukiko quit the company and Gregory quit a couple of months later. The couple came to Japan in 2000 and searched for a job and a place to live.
Gregory, now 40, landed a job teaching English at a cram school in Tokyo and worked there for 10 years. After quitting the school, he became a freelance teacher, and now teaches English at a kindergarten. Yukiko does Japanese-English translations and administrative work for a fashion-related company.
The couple live in Musashino with their three children — Eugene, 9, Mio, 7, and Chika, 1.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Gregory: I met a lot of Japanese in Jamaica, but maybe she was the first one that I could have a full-length conversation with. She spoke English (Yukiko lived in London for six years as a child), so we could chat about anything.
Yukiko: (To Gregory) That’s it? Just because I could speak English?
Gregory: (To Yukiko) I could communicate (with you), so I could express my feelings. And I got to know more about you. Then, I got to like you.
Yukiko: Alright then. I had a very good impression of him. He was very polite. He was always smiling.
What do you like about your partner’s country?
Gregory: I like everything about Japan. Since I came here to live, (I thought) I had to adjust to certain things, so I tried to adjust to everything. I tried to like everything. Initially, crowded trains in a big city were a little tiring for me. But it wasn’t so bad, because I commuted to work in the suburbs, and the train wasn’t so crowded.
Yukiko: I like Jamaica. I like the nature, I like the music. I also like how people are full of energy, and how they survive even under difficult circumstances. Everyone’s happy and is always smiling. People have fun even if they’re poor.
Gregory: It’s how people survive. It’s like “I get paid today, so I’m going to a party tonight, and have fun! I’ll deal with the bills tomorrow.”
How did your parents react to your marriage?
Gregory: My mom was very sick at the time. She couldn’t speak or anything, but when I told her about the marriage, I remember her squeezing my hand.
My dad is funny. He’s a happy little man, and he’s always drunk. He said to me, “Marriage is something that you want to do only once, so just make sure (you find the right person).” He kept saying that.
Yukiko: My mom was quite accepting. She said, “I know you. If you’ve chosen him, he must be the right person.” But my dad said, “No way.” My dad had a lot of experience living and working abroad, and had seen many people having difficulties in an international marriage. That’s why he strongly felt that he didn’t want me to get married to a foreigner. Also, he was worried that it would be difficult for Gregory to live and work in Japan, as Jamaica was not so well known in Japan at the time.
So how did you persuade your dad in the end?
Yukiko: I didn’t. I failed in persuading him many times, and felt that I couldn’t wait anymore. So we decided to get married before getting his approval. He was shocked.
Gregory: Before getting married, (Yukiko’s father) sent me a long email in English explaining that we should take it step by step. He wrote, “Why don’t you come to Japan first, and see what it’s like, and then get married.” But we took a big step, instead of taking it step by step!
I met him for the first time two months after arriving in Japan. He was actually very diplomatic. We just had basic conversation about Jamaica. He talked about his favorite Jamaican record “Banana Boat” and started playing it. We didn’t talk about the marriage. We drank a lot. After that, I tried to explain to him once or twice that I was sorry about the situation, but when I started the conversation, he was more like “Oh, never mind about that.”
Yukiko: After the first meeting, things worked out really well.
Gregory: Especially after Eugene (was born), he didn’t care about us any more.
Do you feel any cultural differences in everyday life?
Gregory: No. Maybe one big factor is because she’s international.
Yukiko: He’s different from my image of an easygoing Jamaican man. He’s descent, polite, and thinks deeply.
What are your dreams for the future?
Yukiko: I want to go and live in Jamaica when the kids grow older, and open a little aka-chochin (Japanese-style pub) named “Yukiko.”
Gregory: That’s more like a hobby. I want us to have our own business in Jamaica.
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