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Irishman lets chips fall, finds love

by Natsuko Fukue

Neither Frankie Lafferty nor Saika Kojima ever thought they would wed a foreigner. But nine months after their first encounter in 2004, the two registered for marriage in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture.

Frankie, a 35-year-old English teacher from Ireland, first expected Japan to be completely different from his own country. But since arriving in 1997, he has never felt a big cultural gap with Japan.

It is probably because his first views of Japan from the train as he left Narita airport for Tokyo looked similar to Ireland. He had expected to see a big city like New York, with skyscrapers, but the airport is actually in the countryside. “I was shocked it wasn’t strange,” he said.

Saika, a 33-year-old employee at a stationery wholesaler, doesn’t feel her husband is that culturally different, either. She even forgets he’s a foreigner sometimes.

Cultural differences have never been an obstacle for the Laffertys. Even though their courtship was short, they felt like they had been together a long time.

They now live in Saitama with their 2-year-old son, Sean.

What brought you to Japan?

Frankie: I studied economics and took a Japanese course in Ireland. I thought I could take a year off, come to Japan, practice Japanese and go back to Europe to get a good job. So I decided to get an English-teaching job for a year.

But then I realized it wasn’t so easy to learn Japanese. And then it was nice to stay here with lots of nice Japanese people and foreigners. So I stayed longer. Every year around the visa time, because I had to renew my visa, I always wondered, ‘Should I go back or should I stay?’ And I stayed.

How did you meet?

Frankie: We met at Shinjuku Station four years ago.

Saika: I had a drinking party with my colleagues that day, and after that we bought a can of beer at a Kiosk in Shinjuku Station. Frankie was there as well, drinking beer with his colleagues.

He was holding a package of potato chips and my colleague wanted some, so I asked him if he would share. We chatted a while and because all of us had a good time, we decided to meet again and exchanged numbers. On the day we were to meet, Frankie and I had finished work earlier than our colleagues, so we went to an Irish bar.

What were your first impressions?

Saika: I had never met Irish people before. I had a negative impression of Irish people — I thought they were serious and strict because of a report on famine and the Irish Republican Army I heard about. But I thought he had a pleasant personality when I first met him.

Frankie: I remember she was skipping at Shinjuku Station. She and her colleagues were a bit drunk because they had left a drinking party.

What did you wear at the wedding?

Frankie: In Japan, I wore a “hakama” (traditional pleated trousers), but she wanted me to wear traditional Irish attire in Ireland. But I didn’t have my own kilt, so I went to a kilt rental shop. I didn’t even know how to wear it because we don’t wear traditional clothes as often as the Scottish do. Even the socks are special. I didn’t know how to tie the skirt. I didn’t know what to do.

Saika: Frankie wore a kimono to the party in Japan, but I wore a dress. We organized a party in Japan and in Ireland in 2005 for our friends and family, and we had an official wedding ceremony in Japan in 2007.

Frankie: It’s like we celebrated our wedding four times, if we count the day we registered our marriage.

Did the decision to marry a foreigner create any obstacles?

Frankie & Saika: No.

Saika: My parents are used to foreigners because there was a U.S. base around this area. I saw old photos of my mother playing with American kids. In fact, people in their 70s and 80s here are used to dealing with foreigners because some had worked on the base in Sayama before.

Frankie: My parents were surprised not because I married a Japanese, but because I got married at all. I think they’re happy I’m married. My family thought I was just too easygoing and that I wouldn’t get married.

We had a little obstacle at City Hall, though. It took longer to register our marriage than expected.

Saika: We had to submit a lot of documents, and it took about two hours to register. Other Japanese couples who came later than us finished registering earlier.

Are there benefits to international marriage?

Saika: It’s good that I started speaking and learning English again.

I also began learning Gaelic.

I’m also happy that I got to make more new friends who are also married to Irish husbands through Mixi, the Japanese networking Web site.

What languages do you speak with your son?

Saika: Sean needs to learn English so he can talk with his grandparents in Ireland. So Frankie always talks to him in English and I use Japanese.

What are your dreams?

Saika: We plan to move to Ireland sometime in the future because we want Sean to understand both cultures.

Frankie: We joke that he could become a sumo wrestler. We even came up with his special wrestling name — “Celt.”

We also hope to have another child.

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