They say that languages bring people closer together and bridge distances. So, too, does the Internet. A Krakow-born Pole, Karina Jancewicz-Ota, 34, met her future husband via the Internet when she was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in the Polish city.
While searching for information on Japanese art and seeking a pen pal to talk about haiku, she became acquainted with Masaki Ota, 33, who was living in Osaka. He was majoring in English at a university in Tokyo.
Their long-distance relationship continued, and after receiving her diploma, Karina left Poland and came to Japan, where she eventually settled down and married Masaki. Together with their 4-year-old son, Emil, they now live in Adachi Ward.
Masaki works at a major Japanese relocation firm in Tokyo, providing support for companies that move employees or entire departments overseas.
Karina has not given up her passion for art. She works at the only Polish restaurant in Tokyo by day and paints by night. As a member of an NPO comprising Poles in Japan who actively promote their culture, she exhibits her works nationwide. Since arriving, she has also been mastering a technique called chigiri-e, a form of collage created with torn pieces of washi, or hand-made Japanese paper. Her works have brought her several awards.
How did you meet?
Karina: I made a lot of works related to Japan during my studies. My graduate work was about “haiku photography.” I wanted to learn more and started chatting with Japanese. Nobody but Masaki was interested in talking about haiku. We also talked about Japan. That’s how we met. It was in July 2004.
Masaki: I went to see her in March 2005. Then she came to Japan in August. We had been chatting (via Internet and telephone) and visiting each other for two years.
When and how did you get married?
Karina: After three months of living together we registered our marriage at a local city hall. In August we went to Poland to have our “real wedding.” The preparations were troublesome. We had to submit a petition to the bishop, since Masaki is not Catholic. But we made it. I think Masaki must have been surprised that wedding ceremonies in Poland are so long.
Masaki: Indeed, we had a traditional wedding party until the next morning, in the middle of which I fell asleep!
Did you decide to live in Japan from the beginning?
Karina: I guess it was me who decided. I’ve always dreamed of living in Japan.
Masaki: Besides, I was about to start work and didn’t think of moving outside Tokyo.
Was it difficult to adjust to life in Japan?
Karina: Not at the beginning. We only had our small world, the two of us, then three when I gave birth to Emil. I think it has gotten more complicated since Emil entered the kindergarten. Getting along with people in Poland is much easier. You don’t have to see people you are not on friendly terms with. But here, once you join a community, you always have to smile. There are many lunch meetings you can’t refuse to attend and sometimes it’s annoying.
Are there times when you feel cultural differences with your spouse?
Karina: Oh, yes. It’s because he works too much. I would say it’s the only reason we argue. But I don’t find other differences a problem. We are in Japan. I must accept some things just as they are. Besides, if I find something weird, we just talk.
What language do you use to communicate with each other?
Masaki: Mostly in English, but sometimes we mix it with Japanese and Polish.
Karina: I want to learn Japanese, so this is the best way to practice.
Masaki: I use Japanese when talking to Emil.
Karina: I speak in Polish, but he answers in Japanese. Recently we have sent him to a Polish language school and his abilities have improved. He is still more fluent in Japanese though.
Do you plan to have your son educated in Japan alone?
Karina: We want Emil to go to school in Japan until high school. We want him to decide where to study afterward. I also want him to learn languages. I hope he’ll become fluent in Polish but I also want him to learn English, which is more international. If he learns fast, I want him to learn other languages. I hope he’ll set ambitious goals.
What do you like about your spouse?
Masaki: From the first time we talked I have felt so normal, very natural. I feel comfortable about Karina. This feeling hasn’t changed.
Karina: Although my English is rather poor, we’ve always had so much to talk about. Of course there are many other reasons, like the fact that we don’t quarrel.
Masaki: Well, maybe sometimes, but it’s not serious.
Karina: We never yell at each other and always try to talk problems over. We are alike.
What are your goals and dreams for the future?
Karina: To become famous someday (laughing). We are not looking too far ahead now, rather taking life day by day. Maybe we will go back to Poland when we get older. But it is a long way off. Now we are doing our best to make Emil happy and also think what is best for ourselves. We’re still young.
Masaki: It is a difficult question. To be honest, recently I’m really busy working until late in the evening and don’t have much time to think about the future. We are doing our best to support Emil, as he is the most important for both of us now.
Reader participation is invited for this occasional series. If you wish to be featured, please email email@example.com.