Yoichi Kubota, a scholar in environmental planning and design, met Patmakorn Suntharothok, who was to become his future wife, for the first time when she was studying business management in the United States 12 years ago.
Pat (short for Patmakorn) happened to be researching environmental management, and she came across a website of Saitama University, where Yoichi was serving as professor at its graduate school of science and engineering. She contacted him, and made an appointment to see him when she had a chance to visit Japan.
The couple soon took an interest in each other, exchanged emails and met up several times before they got married in 2001. Pat quit her studies in the U.S. following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and came to live with Yoichi in Japan.
Today, they live in the city of Saitama with Yoichi’s mother, 96, and three cats.
Yoichi, 60, born in Shizuoka and raised in Tokyo, was a member of a team that designed the Rainbow Bridge and also the principal architect for the recently-completed Tokyo Gate Bridge.
Pat, 44, who hails from Bangkok, authored a novel entitled “More Than Love at Yala” in the Thai language in 2010. The novel is based on a true story that happened in southern Thailand’s Yala Province and was dedicated to the national security officers who are fighting terrorism. In order to find out what is actually happening in the region, Pat spent some time with local residents and the border patrol police, concentrating her research in areas affected by the insurgency. In Thailand, the book was well received by many senior police and army officials as well as religious leaders, and all the royalties from the book are being donated to a charity to help people hit by the insurgency.
What did you think of each other when you first met?
Yoichi: When I met her for the first time, she seemed familiar — as if I had known her for some time.
Pat: We had dinner, and he was so polite. He came in a Christian Dior suit. I thought he was gentle — it was like love at first sight. Earlier, a fortune teller told me, “You will get married by the end of this year to a man who has a beard, and a problem with his arm.” At that time, I didn’t see his beard (she thought it was a shadow), and a handicapped arm. But later, I found out that what I thought was a shadow was actually a beard, and he also had a problem with his arm (As a child, he broke his arm, and did not fully recover). Maybe the fortune teller’s vision was for real.
How was the wedding?
Yoichi: We had three wedding parties. One in America for Pat’s professors and friends, another in Bangkok at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and the third one at Tokyo’s Chinzanso. Getting married three times in one marriage.
Pat: Don’t do that again!
How do you get along with your Japanese mother-in-law?
Yoichi: My mother thinks of her as a daughter. She wanted to have a daughter anyway.
Pat: My mother-in-law is a very traditional Japanese lady. I love her, but I regard her as the president of a company, and I’m the staff. If I think of her as mother, then I would have expectations. If you regard her as president of the ‘Kubota Co.,’ you do everything to make your boss happy. I don’t have any clashes with her as a woman. This (relationship) has worked for 10 years.
Weren’t you worried when Pat went to a dangerous part of Thailand in 2009?
Yoichi: Of course I was worried, but she’s beyond my control. She’s a kind of perfectionist. Because of her perfectionism, she suffers by herself. She gives herself big pressure, like some kind of mission. If I don’t approve, it’s gonna be more pressure.
Pat: Oh, that’s why you allow me to do it?
Yoichi: Yes, to release your pressure. If she wants to do something, she does it. I sometimes get very worried that she quit her studies because she got married to me. I had a sense that she wanted to attain something, and sometimes she was frustrated that she cannot find good things to achieve. And one day, she told me, “I have an inspiration to write a novel.” Now, she has her own world. (This brings) peace and happiness to me, too.
What kind of message do you want to convey with this novel?
Pat: My book is the evidence of my love for Yoichi. He gives me moral support to find the truth (about the insurgency) and convey it to people who don’t know about it. I want my novel translated into English and Japanese. I wish my book is useful and good for Japanese society, too. Maybe the Japanese think it’s something happening very far away, but strategically and geographically, everything is linked in this world. It’s important to proactively look at the world, and to know what’s going on.
Yoichi: This is a unique point of international marriage for me. It makes me expand my sight and view toward the outside world — especially toward Southeast Asia, where I didn’t have any involvement before. If I hadn’t married her, maybe I wouldn’t have had any kind of concern for that region so much like this.
Pat: Yoichi is a person who thinks about other people. His work in environmental planning is to make things beautiful in society, and advance the quality of people’s lives. He is my inspiration to do something for the society.
What’s your plan for the future?
Pat: I recently took an online course at Harvard Kennedy School in management and administration of nongovernmental organization. I studied a lot about national security, so I want to found an NGO to help local people in southern Thailand in education — to create awareness toward terrorism.
Yoichi: My wife has invited me to spend my retirement life in Thailand — in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, in the south, facing the Gulf of Thailand. This is where Yamada Nagamasa (1590-1630, a Japanese adventurer who later became governor of the province) was, and which also has a connection to Shizuoka Prefecture, where I was born (and also where Nagamasa was born).
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