TSUKUBA, Ibaraki Pref. — Gary and Aki Neuwirth say they have married three times. The first time was when they registered with the city office in Nerima, Tokyo, for a marriage certificate last May. Then they held a Japanese-style ceremony at a Shinto shrine in Nerima in July, as Aki’s mother wished, followed by a Western-style reception in Florida at the behest of Gary’s mother.
Gary and Aki were introduced to each other in 2005 by a mutual friend in New York, when Aki was there on holiday.
After Aki returned to Japan, she and Gary kept in regular touch by e-mail for about a year. In July 2006, Gary moved to Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, to work as an English-language teacher, but they were still just friends at the time.
Aki was still living in Tokyo when they started dating. Tsukuba is only 45 minutes by train from Akihabara Station.
The couple now live in Tsukuba with lots of open space, including their favorite park. Their dream is to start a family and grow old together.
What is your hometown and occupation?
Gary: My hometown is Brooklyn, N.Y. My occupation is English teacher at The Bernard English School of Japan.
Aki: My hometown is Nerima Ward, Tokyo. I am a computer-aided design (CAD) operator. Currently, I am a temporary worker at an office in Tsukuba.
Gary, what brought you to Japan?
Gary: I was looking to change careers and a number of my friends had already decided to leave their business jobs and become teachers. I decided to come to Japan (rather than stay in the U.S.) as I previously spent time in Japan and have always wanted to return. I first came to Japan when I was a university student.
Which languages do the two of you usually speak?
Gary: We speak both Japanese and English at home. I speak mostly English, but Aki speaks both English and Japanese at home.
Aki: I usually speak to my husband in Japanese about 40 percent of the time and English 60 percent of the time.
How did you get to know each other?
Gary: We initially met only briefly in New York City but got to know each other over the Internet. In 2005, Aki came to New York on holiday. Aki and I were actually introduced to each other by a mutual Japanese friend who lives in New York. After Aki returned to Japan, we stayed in touch by exchanging e-mails with each other.
What do you like and dislike about the country of your partner?
Gary: I love the attention to detail that is paid to everything here in Japan. Every Seven-Eleven has an extremely clean bathroom and the towels used to wipe car windshields at the gas station are always properly folded. One of my dislikes is that there is still a large majority of Japanese who smoke.
Aki: What I like about my husband’s country is that Americans are positive thinkers and they work together to help one another. I dislike that I can still see racial problems in America.
What do you like and dislike about your own country?
Gary: I both like and dislike that America is a land of individuals. In America, we always say that you can do and say whatever you want. Here in Japan, there are predetermined rules of behavior for most situations.
Aki: What I like about my country is the politeness. What I dislike about my country is that there are many people who like to play TV games. I also dislike that people are able to smoke inside restaurants here in Japan.
Do you feel any cultural differences between the two of you? If so, what are they?
Gary: Yes, I feel that there are cultural differences regarding food. My wife was shocked the first time I ate the skin of a “nashi” (Japanese pear).
Aki: My husband wanted to buy a pair of “indoor” shoes to wear in our house, but he now wears slippers. Also, he always feels warm no matter what season it is.
What is the biggest difficulty in being together with your partner?
Gary: The language barrier. I really want to try and speak Japanese better so I can communicate more with Aki’s family and friends.
Aki: I don’t think that there is a single “biggest” difficulty in being together.
What are some of the good things about having a partner from a different country?
Gary: Aki makes me feel less like a foreigner in a foreign country as she always knows what to do in most every situation.
Aki: Enjoying the differences between our two cultures.
What are some of the bad things about having a partner from a different country?
Gary: Many common experiences or cultural references that most Americans would be familiar with are unknown to her.
Aki: When my husband can’t get used to a Japanese custom, I have to explain the reasons behind it and why it is a custom here.
Was there any difficulty in getting married to someone from a different country?
Gary: At first, Aki’s mother did not approve of her seeing me. All of her doubts were erased when I proposed to Aki and presented her with an engagement ring.
Aki: No. But I feel bad that my husband is so far away from his family and his friends.
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