Dave Greatbanks of England met his future wife, Mimari, in 2000 when he was teaching English at a language school in Niigata that she attended once a week after work.
Dave, 35, was born at an army garrison in Yorkshire where his father worked, and spent his childhood in Liverpool and Germany. Upon graduating from university, he wanted to get out of the U.K. and came to Japan 13 years ago. After six years of teaching English, he attained an MBA and worked for five years in a financial advisory firm that he started with his friends. At present, he does finance-related translation work at a Japanese securities company.
Mimari, 37, who hails from Niigata, worked a variety of jobs in Niigata and Tokyo but now works as an assistant to an executive of a logistics company.
After dating and traveling together a few times, the couple married in 2003. They now live in Yokohama with their 2-year-old daughter, Emma.
Did you fancy each other from the beginning?
Dave: Not from the start. It wasn’t love at first sight at all. But Mimari was a bit different from other students. She had a dry sense of humor — a bit of a snake’s tongue — and had a cheeky smile.
Mimari: Dave was a bit different from the other teachers as well. From my experience, most English teachers working in Japan were too friendly, but he wasn’t like that at all. He was pretty shy and serious compared to other teachers. I thought that maybe he was a bit boring, but when I came to know him better, I thought that he was just trying to do his job properly. He actually had a sense of humor, too.
Dave: You just thought I was very young — I was only 21. You were a bit surprised, weren’t you?
Mimari: I never had teachers who were younger than me. I was only 25 then.
How did the relationship start?
Dave: We started dating a few months before I quit (the language school). Then we went traveling together. I went back to the U.K. for a little while, then we were traveling in Australia for a couple of months.
Mimari: It was my first visit to U.K., and we stayed with his parents.
Did you already think you’d get married at that time?
Mimari: Not at all.
Dave: I asked her a few years later, and she seemed to have thought I was just some boy she was traveling with. For me, it was a little bit more serious than that. I didn’t necessarily think we would get married, but it was serious for me.
But traveling brought you closer together?
Dave: Traveling is difficult. You have to be together all the time. It formed a good basis for our relationship. I didn’t want to get married with anyone without having any trial period. Traveling together was some kind of a concentrated trial period.
Then what happened?
Mimari: After we came back, we stayed with my parents in Niigata.
Dave: I didn’t have a job, so I was staying with her parents for three months. I’d met them before traveling to England. They wanted to see me before she went to see my parents.
Mimari: I introduced Dave to my parents as my boyfriend, but they probably didn’t get it. They only thought we were just like friends.
Dave: I was thinking that they knew what our relationship was. Looking back later, they didn’t seem to appreciate how serious it was. Even when I was staying with them, they didn’t realize what our relationship was.
Mimari: I think my parents thought they owe him, because I was staying with his parents in Liverpool, so probably, they thought they should let him stay. Later, we decided to rent an apartment together, and asked them to be our guarantor. I just casually asked my parents, but they were like, “You can’t live with a boy before getting married.” I told them that we were planning to get married sometime, but they were like, “What?”
How did you get over that?
Mimari: I didn’t really talk to them for six months after that. But then I decided to do something about the situation, and called my mom and asked her how dad was doing. She said that he’s basically giving up, because he knows what kind of person I am. He thinks even if he said no to our relationship, I was going to do what I wanted to do anyway. Eventually, he gradually accepted the idea.
Dave: My parents obviously knew what was going on, and they liked Mimari. If I wanted to get married with her, they didn’t mind, and that was all. I’m the youngest of five children, and some of them were already married. Mimari is the eldest of three children, and she was the first one to get married.
What happened then?
Mimari: We went to visit my parents in Niigata and talked about it.
Dave: I spoke in English, because I didn’t want myself to be misunderstood. And Mimari was translating it into Japanese. Mimari’s parents were worried about my job. I said I was going to keep working as a teacher and keep getting a solid salary. Mimari’s dad didn’t dislike me or anything.
Mimari: He didn’t want to accept the idea that his daughter was getting married, and that possibly she was going abroad.
Dave: The difference between the parents’ reactions was interesting. My parents knew what was going on, but Mimari’s parents were the opposite. I just couldn’t believe that they didn’t read the situation.
Mimari: I was shocked. I didn’t know what they were thinking. After that talk, they resigned themselves to the fact that we were getting married.
In what language do you talk to each other?
Dave: English. At the beginning, I didn’t speak much Japanese.
Mimari: My English wasn’t so good. When we were traveling together, we had a lot of arguments, but it was so stressful for me to express myself in English. So I decided to get out my anger in Japanese, but he didn’t get it at all (because he didn’t understand Japanese at the time), so I would get angrier. So I decided to speak English.
Dave: She can beat me in any language.
In what language do you talk to your daughter?
Dave: I talk to Emma in English.
Mimari: I talk to her in Japanese. She also talks in Japanese at her nursery with teachers and friends. So even when Dave talks to her in English and we’re talking to each other in English, she replies in Japanese.
Do you want her to have a bilingual education?
Dave: Yes, but it’s difficult. Mimari seems to think that I can teach her myself, but it’s not going to happen. Unless she has English-speaking friends, she’ll never be a good English speaker. Also, international schools are very expensive. If we have another child, it’s financially very difficult to send her to international school.
Do you feel any cultural differences in everyday life?
Dave: No. I don’t feel like I’m compromising with cultural issues. I’ve been here a long time, so being here is just normal to me. In many ways, Japan is my home country now. We don’t have any family relationship problems, because our parents live away from each other, and don’t understand each other because of the language barrier. There’s no basis for arguments. It’s almost easier not to be in the same culture. I know some other mixed couples who say that their way of disciplining the kids is different. But our ideas of raising a kid are the same. We don’t have any food problems, either. We are similar in many ways.
Mimari: It’s not so much about being multicultural. You struggle in your marriage whoever you marry — no matter which country that person is from. Sometimes you have disagreements — these things happen.
What are your plans for the future?
Dave: Basically, I’m not a person who makes plans. It scares me to make a plan. All of our plans and dreams are for Emma. I basically want Emma to have opportunities. I want to travel with her, too. There are lots of places I want to go with her like the U.S. and South America, or even places I’d already been to. I’d like her to know about the U.K., too. I don’t want her to be too Japanese or too English, either.
Mimari: Like he said, we both want Emma to be happy wherever we are. We want to give her an opportunity to study abroad, too.
Reader participation is invited for this occasional series. If you wish to be featured, please email email@example.com.