Jamie Paquin and Nozomi Mihara, who jointly own an all-Canadian wine shop that opened in Tokyo last year, met by chance at a cafe six years ago.
They were sitting next to each other — Nozomi studying English and Jamie Japanese — and started chatting. After several exchanges of language lessons, they started dating, and got married in 2010.
Nozomi, born in Kanagawa Prefecture and raised in Fukuoka, had no interest in foreign countries until she went to study in the United States for a year in 2004. She never thought she would marry a foreigner, either.
Jamie, who hails from Brockville, Ontario, first came to live in Japan in 2005 on a scholarship from Japan’s education ministry, and enrolled in a Ph.D. course in sociology at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Taking an interest in wine five years ago, and realizing how difficult it was to find Canadian wine in Tokyo, he decided to open a shop specializing in Canadian wine with Nozomi. While operating the shop Heavenly Vines, Jamie, 40, teaches sociology part-time at several universities.
At present, Nozomi, 37, is recruiting director for an American accounting consulting firm and helps out with the wine shop after work as well as on weekends. She is in charge of the accounting side of the business.
How did you start dating?
Nozomi: The first surprising thing was when he got influenza, and he came to my place and stayed with me for five days. He was living at a dormitory at the time. It was the first time in his life to have flu, so he was scared. He was sweating the whole time and I took care of him.
Jamie: That was a serious flu.
Nozomi: I think we weren’t dating at that point, but maybe Jamie was thinking we were. We were close as good friends, but for me, that was the first time that I realized, “Oh, he must be my boyfriend.”
How did you decide to get married?
Jamie: We first registered for the marriage. I think our direct motivation was partially to make life easier.
Nozomi: We were thinking of spending the rest of our lives together anyway. It didn’t matter if we were married or not, but because he was living abroad, it was easier for us to be married. If he’s sick, for example, I want to go to the doctor with him to do the translation, but since I’m not his wife, the doctors won’t let me in the clinic.
Jamie: Then we did a wedding ceremony in Canada for my grandma.
Nozomi: Grandma organized pretty much everything. We’re not religious at all, but grandma goes to church every weekend, and she asked the church if we could have a wedding ceremony there. Because it was in Canada, neither my family nor friends were there.
Jamie: We weren’t opposed to having a wedding and we enjoyed it, but we didn’t feel strong enough to bother to get her family go over to Canada. I’d rather get them over for a fun trip at some point.
Do you feel any cultural differences?
Jamie: No. Maybe not everyone, but I think as you get older, you have the capacity to assess your own cultural assumptions — especially if you’re living internationally. You’re fine-tuning your own sensibilities. On the personality level, Nozomi and I are very similar. We don’t have any practical problems like the diet or anything, because we like to eat the same sort of ways. I basically like a fish-and-rice-based diet.
Nozomi: I sometimes wonder why we share the same kinds of values, even though we’ve been brought up in different environments. I haven’t had the experience of being flabbergasted by cultural differences. We only have little differences, like the way we peel tangerines. I peel tangerines in a way so that the skin is connected at the bottom — looking like a plate — but when Jamie peels tangerines, the skin ends up in bits and pieces, which surprises me.
What do you think makes an intercultural marriage work?
Jamie: It’s a good question of how any marriage works or doesn’t work. I think anybody that gets in a relationship has to sense whether or not there’s a proper kind of compatibility whether you can get along with each other, and share enough in common to enjoy each other’s company. The reason why people think there’s something special with intercultural marriage is because it often is that you meet in one context, and try to settle in the other, and one person is not comfortable there or doesn’t know what to expect. This kind of thing causes trouble. Nozomi and I, we basically had only two or three arguments. One argument you can mildly call cultural. One time, I was meeting a friend just outside our apartment and Nozomi said, “Well, just don’t invite her in, because the apartment is messy.” Generally, I agree, but then it felt weird to have my friend stand outside, so I invited her in. Nozomi was really agitated with that. It could just be her personality, so it’s not so clear if this is cultural or not, but I know that generally here — especially in Tokyo — you don’t invite people into homes so casually.
What are your plans/dreams for the future?
Jamie: My dream is just to live well, and do things like this (owning a wine shop). I have the courage to take a chance and follow my passion. I want to live a balanced life, enjoy life together and have some kids.
Nozomi: We want to serve as a bridge between Japan and Canada with this wine shop. I want more people to get to know about Canadian wine, because this is one of the special features of Canada, and something that is born from its unique terroir. In the long term, it might sound like a cliche, but we just want to be healthy and happy together.