Dain Kaplan kept running into Akane Odake on campus, which was unusual considering the large population of the University of California, Irvine, and the vast expanse it occupies.
The two, who had already met at a mutual friend’s birthday party, shared much in common, including a love of literature and an appreciation for foreign cultures, although they didn’t know it back then. At the time, the strange coincidences were simply amusing.
After finally exchanging contact information several encounters later, they began hanging out with each other and engaging in long talks on myriad subjects.
Ethnicity was a common theme.
“Because Dain is half Jewish and I’m Japanese, we had a lot of conversations on minority issues,” recalled Akane, a Toyama Prefecture native who majored in gender studies.
A day after Dain’s graduation, the two decided to go to Disneyland together. The same night, Dain saw Akane off on a Greyhound bus headed for San Francisco, where she planned to spend some of her remaining days in the United States.
“But then I decided to follow her, since I knew she was leaving the country in a week. So I bought a one-way plane ticket to San Francisco, and flew up there and spent time with her for a few days,” Dain said.
That decision cemented their bond.
“I think if I hadn’t flown up there, we wouldn’t have stayed together,” Dain said.
Although under some pressure to tie the knot, the two have so far opted out, for philosophical and cultural reasons, and are living in separate apartments in Tokyo.
What do you do?
Dain: I’ve been a software engineer since I was 15, and paid my way through college. Now I’m a graduate student at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, but I still occasionally work for the company I used to work at in the States.
Besides that, I’ve received a grant from Microsoft, which I use for my research.
Akane: After graduating from college, I began working for a PR agency.
This is my second year at the company.
Dain: I do research on computational linguistics with my professor, and we travel quite a lot across Japan and Asia.
Akane: On our tax money!
What are your common interests?
Dain: We both read and write a lot.
Akane: He likes science fiction.
Dain: Dystopian, not necessarily science fiction. Akane’s books tend to be more pragmatic.
Akane: I’ve been reading a lot of business-related literature since I began working, but recently I returned to reading fiction.
I used to be quite stressed-out from work — the whole working as a “shakaijin” (salaried worker) experience was very challenging for me — and was naturally inclined toward self-help books, but I’m getting used to it now.
Dain: I’m actually writing a novel, a dystopian tragedy. I’ve also been writing short fiction, too, and will try to publish it soon.
I’m about 90 percent finished with the novel, but the problem is the last 10 percent — that’s the most difficult.
Akane: He showed me the novel before, but I haven’t read through it yet.
What do you like about each other?
Dain: I like Akane’s unabated curiosity. She always wants to know more about things. If we’re talking about something, and if there’s something she doesn’t know, she immediately finds it out.
Akane: I like the fact that he has an understanding toward minorities. I also like his diligence, his productivity and his Californian positive attitude toward things.
Dain: I wanted to hear something that was more specific to me.
Akane: It is specific to you!
Any plans to get married?
Dain: It has been a recent topic because there’s pressure from above. From parents of both sides.
My dad told me the other day, “Just wanted to let you know that Akane . . . she’s OK by me.”
Akane: My dad’s pressure is much more obvious.
Dain: Her dad actually told me over New Year’s to “please take care of her.”
Akane: He says that kind of thing.
Dain: On the other side, we initially discussed never getting married. Ninety percent of people in Sweden, for example, never get married, but they have kids. They become legally bound after living together for several years.
Akane: I don’t see the point of marriage just yet.
Dain: I also dislike ceremonies. Not because I’m not romantic, but because it seems so contrived.
What do you like or dislike about each other’s cultures?
Dain: I think — and this is not an insult by any means — but Japan seemed much cooler, mysterious, when I first came here and couldn’t read or speak any Japanese. There was this ambience, a feeling. The smell of tatami in the summer, the cicadas in the trees, all the festivals. And after living here for a while, obviously it’s not a mystery any more.
I also think it’s really cool that Japan doesn’t have a religion per se. I mean philosophers throughout the times said that society needs a religion to stay together, and Japan’s kind of the antithesis to that, where there’s not really a strong religion, but society has a very strong cohesive aspect to it.
Akane: In high school I spent some time in Arkansas, and had the chance to get exposed to a lot of films and books about the ’70s civil rights movement, and learn about how people fought to change history for themselves. In Japan, that kind of thing is very difficult, so I like how in the States people believe they can change the world. People aren’t as resigned as they are in Japan.
What are your future plans?
Dain: My professor asked me to stay for a Ph.D, so I might do that. After that, I was thinking of being a postdoctoral researcher or to apply to be an associate professor. But really, I’d like to intensify my pursuits in literature as much as possible.
Akane: I have a few things in mind, but haven’t decided on anything specific just yet.
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