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Tokyo couple share humor, love of rock-climbing

by Reiji Yoshida

To provide more coverage of topics closely related to non-Japanese residents, The Japan Times is launching the series “Mixed Matches” about international couples.

Reader participation is invited. Please e-mail hodobu@japantimes.co.jp if you wish to be featured in this series, which will appear on Page 3 on the first and third Saturday every month starting Dec. 1.

Ben Matsuda and Ryoko Iimura, a cheerful couple who like cracking jokes, met at a party thrown by mutual friends in Tokyo.

Ben is a Japanese-American whose Japanese father went to the U.S. in the 1960s to study medicine, where he met Ben’s American mother, a nurse.

Ben, who attempts to speak Japanese as best he can, first came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant English teacher at junior high schools in Hokkaido. Ryoko, from Japan, speaks English fluently and has traveled to many countries.

Not married and living separately in Tokyo, they like sports and often go to a rock-climbing gym in Bunkyo Ward.

What is your hometown and occupation?

Ben Matsuda: I grew up in Oak Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. My father is a doctor, and my mother is a nurse. I’m an editor and item writer belonging to the Test Production Division of the Society for Testing English Proficiency (STEP). And no, I won’t tell you the answers to the EIKEN tests (laughs)! I also translate a weekly comic strip for the Asahi Chugakusei Weekly newspaper.

Ryoko Iimura: I’m from Ibaraki Prefecture. I’m a Web designer.

Which language(s) do the two of you usually speak?

B: It depends on the situation. Generally, I speak about 40 percent Japanese, 60 percent English, and she speaks about 40 percent English, 60 percent Japanese.

What sorts of places do you usually go to together?

B: We enjoy museums, coffee shops with character (not chain shops), yoga, skiing and snowboarding in Nagano, the rock-climbing gym and hiking in the Japan Alps.

R: The rock-climbing gym, mountains, museums, the movies and traveling!

What do you like and dislike about your partner?

B: I love Ryoko’s spirit of exploration. She’s also easy-going and knows how to have a good laugh. She has a passion for helping the environment and is well-informed about which food products she wants to buy. Sometimes, she can be stubborn.

R: I love his theories and attitude on life. He is good at enjoying everyday life with passion. He is optimistic and funny, and I love the way he appreciates the little things and is satisfied with what he has. He is sometimes impatient, and I think he smokes too much. I wish he would cut back.

Do you feel any cultural differences between the two of you? If so, what are they?

B: I’m not sure if this is so much a cultural difference as much as it is a different style of communication, but the way we answer questions (i.e., directly or indirectly) is different.

R: The way we communicate. Directly and indirectly.

What do you like and dislike about the country of your partner?

B: I like the food here, Japanese technology, and heated toilet seats. It’s annoying when clerks at convenience stores ask if it really is OK not to give me a plastic bag after telling them I don’t want one. They’re obviously trained to ask you again, but that’s ironically inconvenient.

R: Each person’s opinions are treated fairly and openly. I think that’s great. But they are always fighting other countries and their president is crazy.

What is the most difficult thing about your relationship?

B: Living separately.

R: We are both too busy.

What is the greatest pleasure in being together?

B: Having fun goofing around! We don’t spend tons of money to have a good time together. Also, it’s great to support and nurture each other’s spiritual, financial and personal growth.

R: When we are relaxing and joking around.

What are some good and bad things about having a partner from a different country?

B: A good thing is learning and teaching each other languages. A bad thing is distance and cost. It’s expensive to travel to the other country to visit family and friends.

R: One good thing is that he doesn’t do things I don’t like about Japan (like chewing food with his mouth open). A bad thing is he doesn’t let me eat plain “natto” (fermented soybeans) around him because of the smell. But for some reason, natto with raw egg and soy sauce on it is OK.

What are your dreams for the future?

B: Having an environmentally responsible lifestyle, eating healthy food (no GMOs), and balancing professional and personal life. A happy life with Ryoko!

R: Having a self-sufficient lifestyle. Live with joy and laughs. Visit all the countries I haven’t been to. Having a happy life with Benjamin.