Alexander Bright and Akiko Yamada first met at Cambridge University in 1999, when Bright was a graduate student majoring in materials science and Yamada, then a high school teacher, was taking a year off to study education in England.
They married in 2003 and have a 2-month-old daughter, Akane. Bright, a British citizen, recently decided to speak to her mainly in English. “I want her to learn to speak English well,” he says.
The family lives in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture. Bright works for the Japanese branch of an American company that sells electron microscopes and other high-tech equipment.
Half of the interest and excitement of the job is using his Japanese ability to help communication between Japanese customers and the U.S. head office, he says.
“I couldn’t do that in the U.K.,” says Bright, who is from Bristol, southwestern England. Yamada, from Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, is not working at present.
Which languages do the two of you usually speak?
Alex: It seems to be mostly Japanese recently, with some English mixed in. But since our daughter was born last November, I am trying to speak English properly again. Otherwise she will never learn it well, and that would be very disappointing and make communicating with family in the U.K. very difficult.
What do you like about Japan?
Alex: Most things work really reliably, and this saves a lot of wasted effort. The buses and trains are particularly good. I also really appreciate that people are so polite, helpful and considerate of others around them, so you can feel a sense of privacy even on a crowded train. It is also less competitive than the U.K. Although competition can be very useful, for example in business, I think it is mostly counterproductive in society.
Akiko: People pay attention to the feelings of those around them. This can be a bad thing if taken too far, but the feeling of living in a society where people care about each other is very important.
And we can be very proud of (the war-renouncing) Article 9 of the Constitution.
What do you dislike about Japan?
Alex: So much land is given over to cars. It feels like the layout of most cities has been designed only with car-convenience in mind.
I also wish the electricity cables, especially in attractive neighborhoods, could be put underground. In Japan, city areas look rather like power stations to me.
Akiko: Too many people seem to spend their lives chasing after things, driven only by competition and advertising. Relative to other cultures, the Japanese are too easily persuaded by brand image and media promotions. A more critical study of the good and bad points of a product or a lifestyle is needed. And people should put more faith in their own opinions. Too much value has come to be placed on efficiency and development.
What do you like about Britain?
Alex: It has a vibrant history and cultural life, beautiful buildings and towns, greenery, countryside visible from the road, creativity, open and frank debate about important issues, the tendency to fight for freedom and democracy, the BBC.
Akiko: Their way of thinking is more flexible, more relaxed and more positive than Japan. People are particularly good at finding their own way of living and enjoying it to the fullest, without feeling constrained by their age or gender.
They have a better understanding of the world, and more awareness than in Japan that society is something you build for yourself. Interest in politics and the global environment is also higher.
What do you dislike about Britain?
Alex: The weather in winter (cold, wet, windy, dark). How dirty most cities are. Poor public transport between cities. The alcohol binge-drinking culture. A generally stubborn refusal to follow advice from others.
Akiko: Sometimes it is too laid-back. Trains are often late, restaurants get orders wrong, shop service is unhelpful or nonexistent, etc. Away from the cities, people who feel superior to Asians are not unusual.
Do you feel any cultural differences between the two of you?
Alex: Well, originally there was pretty much nothing that we did the same. I mean, everything from ideas on what furniture is really necessary to how you discuss where to have lunch. Communication is still an issue I think, but most “culture” is just a load of assumptions you take for granted, and as long as you can both keep an open mind, it is healthy to challenge them. The really important things are rather similar between countries, I think.
Akiko: We have more things in common than differences. He tends to be more relaxed about life, and doesn’t get so stressed, maybe through having a broader perspective.
What are some good things about having a partner from a different country?
Alex: There is always so much that you can teach each other, because your education and backgrounds are completely different. And you really have to consider why you think things and do things the way you do. Plus you get an expert guide to a whole new country.
Akiko: Getting a much broader perspective on the world. And being able to attribute all differences of opinion and misunderstandings to “You aren’t Japanese so you wouldn’t understand,” even when personality differences or a lack of effort to communicate are more likely.
What is your dream for the future?
Alex: Japan leading the world in developing green technologies and a model of sustainable living. Mostly the required technologies are there already, and many of the most successful companies are based in Japan. Awareness has increased a lot and we are starting to move in the right direction. I would really like to be a part of making that happen.
Akiko: To always continue to grow and learn new things, and to fully enjoy family life are the most important to me.
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