Kyle Sexton’s life in Japan began in a New York sushi restaurant decades ago. It was there the Pennsylvania native developed a sudden obsession with the faraway land. On impulse, he made his way here in 1984 with no job and only $300 in his pocket.
Now 51, Sexton has been in Tokyo ever since. With his wife, Shimizu Hikage, 50, they opened a bakery and raised four kids.
“I’m still fascinated with Japan,” he said.
Sexton and his wife speak English and Japanese.
Why the Japan fixation?
Kyle: I don’t know. After I went to that sushi restaurant, I got obsessed with Japanese culture. I learned the history and language and came to Tokyo. I only had $300, so the first thing I did in Japan was ask my father for money. Later, I found a job teaching English.
How did you meet?
Kyle: In 1985, we met at an event of the Japan African-American Friendship Association.
Shimizu: I went there because a friend of mine asked me to.
When did you propose?
Kyle: In February 1986, I said, “Will you marry me?” in a shower.
Shimizu: I don’t remember how I responded.
How was your wedding?
Kyle: We went to New York City Hall and had a nonreligious ceremony, with a justice of the peace pronouncing us husband and wife on Aug. 1, 1986.
Shimizu: We did not have any partylike events. When we got back to Japan, we went to a ward office to register our marriage.
How did your parents react?
Kyle: They didn’t. They just wanted me to be happy. My friends back home asked me how my parents reacted, but they really didn’t. I didn’t ask them. I told them I would marry her.
Shimizu: My parents, living in Iwate Prefecture, opposed the marriage. They did not come to New York, and I did not tell them when we had a baby. We got back on meeting terms when my eldest son began going to kindergarten.
When and how did you open your shop, Kyle’s Good Finds?
Shimizu: We opened the shop (a bakery that sells brownies, decorated cakes and other American-style food items) in 1991. We had two children then.
Kyle: We were baking out of our apartment while I was teaching. Then three friends of ours offered ¥1 million each to open a shop, so we opened this shop.
How old are your children?
Shimizu: Kyle II, 20-year-old son; Elena, a 19-year-old daughter; another daughter Safia, 15; and another son, Xavier, 7. The elder two are going to a university in the United States. They all went though Japanese public schools as we could not afford international schools. So, their first language is Japanese.
What language do you speak to your children?
Kyle: I only speak English to them.
Shimizu: I was speaking Japanese and English to the first two children. But since the third was born, I have been speaking only Japanese. I guess that is because I became lazy.
Did your children have a hard time in school because of their ethnicity?
Shimizu: In the case of the elder two, there were no pupils in their elementary school who have skin color different (from Asian’s). They told me that their classmates told them they do not play with people of different skin color.
Kyle: In America, we stand up (and fight against) bullying, but I just encouraged my wife to talk to teachers and the parents of those kids.
Shimizu: I talked to teachers about this.
What nationality will your children take when they have to choose before turning 22?
Kyle: I want them to choose U.S. citizenship.
Shimizu: Whatever is convenient for them. But I wish they can keep both.
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