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Massage their main medium

by Eric Johnston

KYOTO — Ted Taylor, 40, a native of New Mexico, was not planning on going to a farewell party held for someone he had never met. He was planning to return to Tottori Prefecture on that day in April 2006.

But a few encouraging words from his roommate pushed him to attend the party held in Kyoto where he met Miki Matsumoto, a shiatsu instructor — his future bride.

At first, Ted, a yoga teacher, felt lost in a pool of people he hardly knew until he sat next to Miki.

“I just happened to sit next to Miki and we made a connection through our interests in yoga and shiatsu,” Ted said. “It was pretty much love at first sight.”

The feeling was mutual.

“I’d been doing yoga for years, but had never found a younger teacher until I met Ted,” said Miki, 36, originally from Etajima, Hiroshima Prefecture.

She was also interested in American Indian culture, and Ted, being from New Mexico, knew quite a lot about it.

They married in April and now live in eastern Kyoto, where Ted teaches yoga and Miki is a shiatsu instructor.

How did you end up in Kyoto?

Miki: I moved to Kyoto eight years ago. I wanted to study shiatsu and there are quite a lot of schools in Kyoto.

Ted: I actually lived in Tottori for 12 years, where I first taught English and then later opened a yoga studio. I began commuting to Kyoto two nights a week to study Japanese “bujutsu” (martial arts) and to teach yoga, and moved here about 2 1/2 years ago.

What was the biggest adjustment after getting married? Language? Lifestyle?

Miki: For me, because I used to live with foreign friends and studied in Canada, language wasn’t that big an issue. But food was a big issue at first.

It’s not a big issue now. Sometimes, though, I want to eat food I grew up with, not Western food. But we both cook, so it’s not a problem if we both want to eat our own food. And I didn’t just eat Japanese food all the time, even before I got married. But Ted’s cooking, which I like, used spices that were quite new for me.

Ted: Being from New Mexico, we use a lot of different spices and cheese. Nearly 70 percent of what I cook is Mexican (or New Mexican) food. So it’s much heavier and a lot richer than Japanese food, whereas Miki’s diet is almost macrobiotic. But we don’t eat red meat. And due to the hot Kyoto summers, Miki wants to go vegetarian, and I’m fine with that.

Was there any concern on the part of your parents about getting married to a foreigner?

Ted: Not on my side.

Miki: Even before I met Ted, my mother had suggested that I marry a foreigner. I’d lived in Canada, and had many foreign friends in Kyoto, so perhaps she felt it would be best, although I wasn’t looking to marry a foreigner in particular. But my mother is quite happy. My parents are divorced, and my father is more traditional.

What do you like and dislike about each other’s cultures?

Ted: The Japanese sense of curiosity about other cultures is great. The sheer variety of different cultural events, especially in Kyoto, is unbelievable. The bad thing is the current political system, which is out of touch with what’s going on. It’s supported by a populace that is pretty apathetic and isn’t willing to change it.

Miki: I’ve traveled to America but never lived there, so perhaps my view is a bit superficial, but I like the freedom in the U.S. In particular, I like the atmosphere of freedom that encourages you to re-educate yourself no matter what your age.

On the other hand, (what) I don’t like (about) the U.S. is the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. Of course, America sometimes seems like a very violent place as well.

What do you like and not like about Kyoto?

Miki: I like the fact that you can easily go to the river or the surrounding mountains. You can also go pretty much everywhere by bicycle. There are also lots of shrines and temples where you can relax.

But one thing you do realize after you live here for a while is that, yes, Kyoto people are very conservative.

Ted: Living in Kyoto is almost like living in a park. It’s not so much the traditional Kyoto culture for us as the mountains, the rivers and the greenery. I also like the fact there are so many universities because they bring in a lot of art and music.

But I don’t like Kyoto’s size. I grew up in a small town in New Mexico and lived in Tottori. When I go to Tokyo, I realize that, basically, Kyoto is “inaka” (rural). Of course Tokyo and Osaka have a lot to offer. But I prefer a more remote locale to live.

What practical advice would you give your friends or acquaintances if they said they wanted to marry a foreigner?

Miki: Once you’ve gotten married, it doesn’t really matter if your partner is Japanese or Chinese or American. And if they don’t speak each other’s languages well, getting married is a great opportunity to learn.

Ted: You’re not just marrying the person, but the culture as well. Obviously, learn your partner’s language.

But pay close attention to how your partner communicates with his or her close friends in Japanese. If you run your partner’s communication methods through your own cultural filter, it’s easy to make mistakes. But if you realize that, “Oh, this is the way he or she naturally talks to friends and family,” you’ll understand better.

Do you plan to spend the rest of your lives in Japan?

Ted: I’m actually considering graduate school from around 2010, and hope to study ethnomusicology. After that, maybe we’ll move to the Santa Fe area. Ideally, I’d like to be a college professor. We also both have an interest in living in a less developed country. But I also want to keep my Kyoto connection. So we may eventually buy land somewhere in Japan.

Reader participation is invited for this series, which appears every other Saturday. If you wish to be featured, please e-mail hodobu@japantimes.co.jp