It is not unusual for young Japanese to go abroad to study English. But where they choose to go for their studies can change their destiny.
Haruna, whose surname then was Iida, planned to go to New York in summer 2001. But the 31-year-old Gifu Prefecture native, who moved to Tokyo after graduating from college in Nagoya, changed her mind after Sept. 11.
In February 2002, she instead went to study English at her second choice, Vancouver, British Columbia, where she ended up meeting her future husband, Tyler Harder, 30. After a breakup and later long-distance relationship, the pair married in April 2007.
Tyler, born and raised in British Columbia, is now accustomed to Japanese life. He is a big fan of movies directed by the late Juzo Itami, including “Tampopo” (“Dandelion”), a ramen shop story, and “Supa no Onna” (“The Supermarket Woman”), featuring a housewife who saves a failing store run by a friend.
Tyler is now a self-employed Web site and graphic designer, while Haruna works for Tokyo International School in Mita, Minato Ward.
How did you meet?
Haruna: Tyler was a friend of my language school’s president, and he introduced us at a coffee shop in downtown Vancouver.
How did you two end up in Tokyo?
Haruna: Well, it’s a long story. First, I came to Tokyo from Gifu Prefecture in April 1998 for work, then went to Vancouver in February 2002, and came back to Tokyo with Tyler in February 2004. We were not married yet.
Tyler: That was the first time I set foot in Japan. Then we lived in a one-room apartment in Meguro and I was teaching English. But I was wondering what to make of life here in Tokyo.
Haruna: Our relationship became difficult and we split.
What happened then?
Tyler: I returned to Vancouver in July 2005.
Haruna: In January 2006 I visited my Japanese friend in Seattle, and e-mailed Tyler, who came to see me there. We got back together. We started a long-distance relationship, meeting in Vancouver, Tokyo, Okinawa and Hawaii. In Hawaii in October 2006, Tyler popped the question!
Tyler: I remember very clearly. We had a lunch picnic on the beach after surfing. I had bought a ring in Vancouver, which was in my pocket. After lunch, Haruna said, “When we decide to get married, I don’t need a ring or any jewelry — I just wanna travel.” Of course, I had the ring in my pocket, so it was pretty funny.
What did you do then?
Tyler: I knelt down, pulled out the ring and said, “Will you marry me?”
Haruna: I first said, “What?!” Then I said, “Yes.” I thought he was kidding.
Which language do you speak to each other?
Tyler and Haruna: We speak 70 percent English at home, and 30 percent Japanese.
When we meet Japanese or Canadian friends, we try and shift languages accordingly.
How good is your Japanese, Tyler?
Tyler: Not so good. My vocabulary is not great, but I understand a fair bit of patterns and grammar. I can’t catch Japanese jokes and much of the other fun stuff — it gets lost in translation.
What is your favorite food?
Haruna: Sushi, French fries and hamburgers.
Tyler: Cheese, “konnyaku” (devil’s tongue jelly), and all of the amazing and surprising foods of Japan. But I hate raw egg mixed with “natto” fermented soybeans, and I’m also not too fond of “shirako” — fish sperm tubes.
What do you like and dislike about your partner’s country?
Haruna: Canadians are very friendly and very open-minded about other cultures. Summer in Vancouver is incredibly beautiful. There is a lot of nature, outdoor activities like camping and canoeing, and people are very ecological. But winter in Vancouver is rainy, cold and miserable. And some Canadians like Tyler are very unpunctual.
Tyler: Life is surprising here in Japan. Things are very organized and convenient. But sometimes, Japan is too organized, and there are too many rules. People don’t need so many rules!
Do you feel any cultural differences between the two of you?
Haruna: People’s opinions about working are absolutely different. I’m basically used to working long hours for my company. But he is not happy like that. We have different views on housework as well. I always think I have to cook, clean up and be a nice wife but he does not think so at all. His basic concept is that we are equal and whenever we need help, we should support our partner.
Tyler: I like to work independently, and on my own projects — not always at a company. At work, I don’t mind working long hours if I am excited about a project, but I don’t feel it should be expected of me all the time.
Do you have any funny stories since you met?
Tyler: When I proposed to Haruna’s parents formally, I was really nervous. I also didn’t study well what to say before we met them. Haruna kept poking me under the table, urging me to say something at the time. I was unsure of the situation and timing, so I blurted out, “Majime wo kudasai” (please give me your seriousness) instead of “Musume wo kudasai” (please give me your daughter).
What are good or bad things about having a partner from a different country?
Haruna: Finding out about another country’s culture, politics, food and religion is great. The bad thing is that we cannot celebrate Christmas and New Year with both families every year.
Tyler: Everything is great. It is a great contrast.
Which language will you teach your child when you have one?
Haruna and Tyler: Japanese early on, then English. But it depends on which country we live in at that time, we want to create a good balance.
Was there any difficulty in getting married with a partner from a different country?
Tyler: There has been a lot of paperwork, lots of applications and lots of work to get long-term immigration visas to both countries.
Haruna: Yes, but he loves sushi and yakitori grilled chicken and I love hamburgers and French fries — we both admire each other’s culture, which helps a lot. Both parents have also been very flexible and accepting of our situation, and meeting new friends in both countries has been great.
Reader participation is invited for this series, which appears every other Saturday. If you wish to be featured, please e-mail email@example.com