If you think that “Sleepless in Seattle” was the only love story that the city has ever known, you’ve got a lot to learn. Seattle has many romantic tales to tell.
This story wouldn’t have had a happy ending if Anna Morawska, 42, from Poland, had not gone to the United States to spend her summer holidays with her sister — and then stayed with her family a bit longer.
Meanwhile, Osaka native Taichi Katayama, 39, was sent to Seattle on a Japanese government job to study at the University of Washington as a part of a training program.
The two met in September 1999, at an English language course they both enrolled in. They got married in 2000 and currently live in Tokyo. Anna teaches English, and Taichi works at the largest company in the country that’s involved in the development of wind power. And of course, they’ve now got a 5-month-old daughter named Julia.
Did you take a liking to each other from the first moment that you met?
Anna: Not really. It all happened because I’m a gourmand.
Taichi: It was me who called and asked her out.
Anna: But I had no clue that it was a date. I thought he was asking me out as a friend and was then surprised the restaurant (Salty’s on Alki Beach) we went to, was so fancy. I was talking the whole evening; he was listening and smiling.
How did you decide to get married?
Anna: We had a lot in common. We were both learning English. I was impressed with how diligent Taichi was. Every morning he got up at 6 a.m. to look back over the tasks we had done the previous day. That was what I liked the most and I knew I could rely on him.
Taichi: We practiced English together before classes or while sightseeing.
Anna: We dated for about a year and then decided to get married.
Taichi: She’s a nice person, and apparently she was interested in me. I liked that.
Anna: And I’m a chatterbox, maybe that’s why we got married. We only had a civil ceremony at the municipal court during a break between classes. We had a celebration lunch and then returned to school.
What happened then?
Taichi: A year later I was transferred to Riyadh.
Anna: It was a tough experience. In Saudi Arabia hugging or holding hands in public is prohibited. I tried it once, though, risking getting arrested by the religious police.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your marriage?
Anna: There’s always a point in your life you face a challenge or a hurdle. We still have one ahead — raising Julia.
Taichi: Anna suffered a culture shock when we came to Japan after two years in Riyadh.
Anna: Japanese houses are not only small but also too dark, with small windows. I didn’t like the fact we could spend time together only on weekends. He worked until early hours in the morning, I taught English until 10 p.m. I also couldn’t understand the Japanese, their true colors, but finally got used to the ambiguity in communication. Well, you don’t have to accept or understand everything. Now I focus on my life more than others’. And Japanese cuisine compensates for it all.
What language do you speak to each other?
Anna: We spoke in English for about five years. Now we communicate mostly in Polish. It is more natural for me to express my thoughts in my native tongue.
Taichi: And marriage works better if you don’t build unnecessary language barriers. You might get lost in translation. I learned Polish from Anna, who’s a great and talented teacher. She specialized in teaching (French).
Anna, what was childbirth like here in Japan?
Anna: I was concerned that giving birth to a child at my age might be complicated and did not want to go through such a painful experience. In Japan, unlike the U.S. or Europe, natural birth is a standard. I had only one condition — whether the clinic offered painless deliveries using epidural anesthesia, for my and the child’s safety. There are only few such clinics. I didn’t care if there were English-speaking doctors since you don’t talk much during labor. (Laughs.) It’s important to stay strong to raise the baby afterward. We listed the clinics, but the first we called refused to accept a foreigner. Taichi was also very supportive. After all, it was like a visit to the dentist.
What was the most memorable moment in your marriage?
Anna: The birth of Julia. I thought that child rearing would be tougher. Instead, it turned out fascinating. It’s as if you were born again, only modified or improved.
Taichi: I take care of Julia after work and give her a bath every evening.
What was the most important thing you’ve learned from each other?
Anna: I’ve always wanted to learn to speak in a more indirect way — like Taichi and many other Japanese. It’s too late for me to change my personality though.
Taichi: I learned to express my thoughts and feelings. Poles are straightforward, they say what they think. I realized it’s important and relieving.
Anna: He also cooks Polish food. He even baked a Polish poppy seed roll and replaces rice with potatoes as a side dish.
What makes your marriage work?
Anna: I think we are a good match. If you meet someone, you either go together like bacon and eggs or you don’t. Every marriage is cross-cultural, regardless of your background.
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