Nicholas Canalos, 31, from Ohio, and Akiko, 29, who hails from Saitama Prefecture, both studied and aspired at university to become English teachers — in their respective home countries.
The couple first met in Tokyo at a “juku” (supplementary school) for junior high and high school students where Nicholas taught English, and where Akiko made English textbooks and CDs.
Nicholas came to Japan for the first time in 2001 as a university student — double majoring in sociology and education — to visit a friend who was studying at Nanzan University in Nagoya, and fell in love with the country. He took Japanese art and history classes at the university, and came to Japan for the second time to teach English. He taught English at several schools, and finally settled with his current job.
The couple met at a party for the juku employees, and Nicholas, who fell in love with Akiko at first sight, asked her phone number the following day at work. They dated for three years and got married in 2009.
The couple now live in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward, and Akiko teaches at an alternative school in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture. They are expecting their first child in June.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Akiko: He looked older than his age.
Nicholas: Distinguished, not old. I’ve always worn a beard. Maybe I just look old, I don’t know.
Akiko: But when I talked to him, he had a somewhat childlike aspect to him, and I was intrigued by the gap.
Nicholas: As we were chatting, I was feeling surprised — I never understood why the cutest and most beautiful woman in the room was talking to me. But if she was going to, I was determined to enjoy it.
Akiko: I’ll make a really nice dinner tonight!
So you’re both English teachers?
Nicholas: Yes, but very different. I teach highly-motivated students, but Akiko’s English teaching is very different.
Akiko: I teach at an alternative school, where we support high school-level students academically, mentally and in their family lives. They have quit regular schools due to various reasons including bullying, developmental disorders of their own as well as family problems. I have to take care of the mental side of the students as well as teach them English.
Nicholas: A lot of her work involves counseling and student-teacher relationship. She’ll stay late at the school if she needs to talk to parents or students who are crying. Often times, she’ll come home stressed and tired. But she is determined to help the students.
Akiko: Some of the students inflict violence on themselves, like cutting their wrists and jumping from the second floor of their house. Especially at night, they can’t sleep well, and they think about negative stuff like they want to die.
Nicholas: One of the things she has noticed is, by the time she teaches them in high school, it’s too late for many students. They’ve already fallen into a pattern of not focusing on studying, not thinking about the future. So if you can get them earlier, maybe that’s better.
Akiko: Actually, with two other staff from the school, I started a counseling service (email firstname.lastname@example.org) to help younger students who cannot go to school. I want to help the students and parents before it’s too late.
How did your family react to the marriage?
Nicholas: I have family in Chicago, Cleveland and Minnesota. When we decided to get married, we went to visit them all. Everyone really loved Akiko. We wanted to tell everyone in person. We didn’t want to just send email to everyone saying we’re going to get married.
Akiko: My father really loves foreigners. The funny thing is, neither my family nor friends were surprised that my boyfriend was a foreigner. I don’t know why, but even when I was a junior high or high school student, my friends said they think I will marry a foreigner. I really loved to travel abroad, and as a college student, I went to New York on my own.
What kind of wedding did you have?
Nicholas: We had a Shinto-style ceremony, and then a wedding reception in Tokyo with family and a lot of friends. My parents and my sister came. Then, we did a party at the Sunshine 60 observatory in Ikebukuro. We danced salsa and other dances. Akiko’s hobby is ballet, jazz and hip-hop dancing. Then the next week, we went to the U.S., and had a party in Ohio with my family — at a barn that’s been turned into a reception hall. The barn was full and we had tents outside, with live music. My family is very musical — we had a stage, and had singing and dancing there.
Do you feel any cultural differences?
Nicholas: It’s easy to see cultural difference in everyday life with a bunch of people you don’t know. It’s very difficult to see cultural differences at home, because we have so much personally invested in our home relationship to not think of this in terms of Japan and America — to think of this in terms of individuals.
There’s definitely a bit of cultural difference, but it’s difficult for me to tell which difference is cultural difference, and which difference is a difference in personalities. I have no doubt that it’s a mixture of both. Akiko’s standard of cleanliness is higher than mine. This is probably a mixture of both cultural and personality differences.
What’s your future plan?
Akiko: I want to open a school of my own — like an after-school juku, but not focusing on preparing students for higher education. I want to prepare students to enjoy their life at school and at home.
Nicholas: My dreams are not as big as hers. I’m not so much of a dreamer. I’m happy to support her in every way I can. I don’t need to change the world, you know. I know that she does. I have my family, I have my friends, and I have hobbies. I don’t need much — I’m pretty happy.
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