Joerg Schnackenberg, 51, from Germany, and his wife, Teruka, 59, met in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, in 1995. Joerg, a biochemist who came to Japan right after finishing his Ph.D. at a German university, had been working at a private marine technology institute in Kamaishi for three years. Teruka, a nihonga (traditional Japanese painting) artist from Tokyo, was living in the coastal city with her husband and three children.
The three met at a jazz bar where Japanese and non-Japanese residents mingled. Teruka and her husband quickly became friends with Joerg, but after a while Teruka divorced her husband.
She and Joerg ended up reuniting in Tokyo and began dating.
Because Joerg’s contract at the Kamaishi institute had come to an end and he was thinking of returning to Germany, the couple decided to get married near his hometown of Kassel. They held their wedding at a 14th century castle — the same one said to have inspired the castle featured in “Sleeping Beauty” — in a forest near his hometown in central Germany.
Afterward, they returned to Japan, where Joerg found work in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. He changed jobs twice and is now employed with a medical-equipment manufacturer in Tokyo.
Teruka’s children have grown up and left the house, and the couple live in a home built last year in a combination of Japanese and European styles with a garden in a hilly area near Seibuen Amusement Park in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture.
Why did you decide to live in Japan?
Joerg: I thought my wife would be happy if we lived in Japan. She had three kids, and the eldest was 13 then. I thought that going to Germany would be too hard on the kids.
Teruka: I’m very grateful for him to come all this way from a faraway country, so I must take good care of him. One time when he was looking for a job in Japan, I actually found a suitable job for him in the newspaper. I called the company up, and they asked Joerg to come for an interview.
How did Teruka’s children react to the marriage?
Teruka: They accepted our marriage and didn’t show any resistance, so I was surprised. We had some problems when we all started living together, as the children were in a sensitive stage in their lives, and they also cared about my ex-husband. But those problems went away before we knew it.
How did your parents react?
Teruka: My mother was very pleased. When Joerg’s mother and sister came to visit Japan, we held a welcome party, and there, my mother sang the German national anthem in German. I think she learned it when she attended a church in Tokyo. Joerg’s mother joined her in the song, and I was so touched by it. My father was still shocked about my divorce from my ex-husband, but after meeting Joerg in person, he was happy to find out how good-natured he was.
Joerg: My mother is madly in love with Teruka. She always says: ‘Treat her well. You can’t find a better wife.’
Teruka: I’m so grateful to his parents for their tolerance. Normally, any parent would be against a marriage to a divorcee with children. But his parents said that they are happy if Joerg is happy.
In what language do you speak to your partner?
Teruka: We originally started out talking in English, because Joerg spoke only little Japanese. Now, we communicate mainly in Japanese. When I try to talk to him in my poor English, he tells me to talk in Japanese.
Joerg: Her English is better when she talks to other foreigners. When she talks to me, she just gives me the key words, and I’m supposed to guess what she wants to say. So I tell her to speak in either proper English or Japanese.
Do you become aware of your cultural differences in married life?
Joerg: When we got married, I had already lived in Japan for three years, so I was used to the Japanese culture and way of living. I met my wife here and started my career here. I don’t know anything else.
In the beginning, I made all the typical gaijin mistakes like forgetting to take off my shoes at the entrance of a house, or to take off bathroom slippers. But it was easy for me to get accustomed to Japanese culture, because I lived in the countryside and people were eager to teach me about Japan. Now, I can imagine living in Japan all my life. I have no intention to go back to Germany.
Teruka: We even bought our grave sites this year. It seems like he likes the weather here in Japan. As for me, one of the differences I felt was that Germans don’t like taking a bath in a bathtub like the Japanese. Joerg prefers to take showers.
Joerg: In Germany, there’s an old custom to take a bath only on Saturdays. I like onsen, though.
What do you like about your partner?
Teruka: Joerg is a reliable person. He plans everything in advance. For example, he can save money. That’s how we managed to build this house. Also, I like the way he doesn’t change his style. He wakes up at 4 a.m. every morning, and leaves for work at 5 a.m. He does that every single weekday.
Joerg: It has developed into a habit. There are many things I like about Teruka. First of all, she’s very patient with me. I know I can be difficult sometimes, but she never gets loud with me. Secondly, she’s a good companion. I think we never get bored with each other, probably because we have different professions. Thirdly, she’s a very pleasant person. She’s also a perfect cook. I used to cook before, but now she spoils me.
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