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Marriage to Aussie ‘otaku’ found in translation

Warrior nerd left home, never looked back

by Minoru Matsutani

For Junko Hirose, her Australian husband, Richard Northcott, is pretty much Japanese when viewed from two aspects.

First, he is a Japan “otaku,” or nerd. He showed her his treasures — a photo of late pop idol Yukiko Okada, whose suicide in 1986 at the age of 18 made her a legend, and a gown with a huge embroidery of idol Noriko Sakai’s name written in kanji — on the first day they met in summer 2006.

Second, he acts like a typical “oyaji” (middle-aged man) because he is not good at remembering anniversaries or arranging romantic situations, as she thought Westerners normally are, she said. “He always thinks about work,” she said.

Northcott, 42, who owns a software company, a bar in Shinjuku’s Golden-gai district and a real estate agency in Tokyo as well as being a Kyokushin Karate champion, and Hirose, 36, a translator, have a 1-year-old son Ethan Ramon.

Northcott speaks Japanese and English, and Hirose speaks Japanese, English and Thai.

When did you come to Japan?

Richard: I came to Japan in 1986 with a working holiday visa as I was a university student. I had many interests in Japan, such as martial arts, pop music and history. I liked Japan so much that I transferred to Sophia University and switched my visa status to a student visa. I was going to return to Australia but never did.

What did you do after that?

Richard: In Sophia, I was a classmate of (’80s pop singer) Yu Hayami. Her mother hooked me up with a job at Sun Music Production (a show business agency Hayami, Okada and Sakai worked with). I helped with ’80s super-idol Seiko Matsuda’s debut in the United States, and then took a job at CBS Sony (now Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.). I established the software company Enfour Inc. in 1991.

How did you two meet?

Richard: In August 2006, I was looking for a translator because I was making a mobile dictionary and multilingual translation system. Thai is one of the languages I was looking for a translator for, and someone introduced Junko to me.

What were your first impressions of each other?

Junko: My first impression was that he has eyes with a boy’s spark. Then, I thought he was a mysterious man after he showed me his treasures.

Richard: She left her home country a little after turning 20 just like I did. I thought she had something in common with me. I am a weirdo, fitting in no one mold. I thought a woman like her might be suited to being my partner.

Junko: I began working for Cathy Pacific (Airways Ltd.) and was assigned to Hong Kong when I was 21. I lived there for six years. I got back to Japan and worked for several companies and went to Thailand to study the language for two years. I just wanted to live in Thailand and learn the language for a while. For the moment, I am a housewife.

How did you propose?

Richard: I don’t remember.

Junko: He didn’t tell me anything. He is not very romantic. (laughs)

Richard: But I gave you a ring properly at a restaurant in Omotesando.

Junko: But he had asked me what ring I wanted before. So it wasn’t a surprise.

What did you do for your wedding?

Richard and Junko: Nothing.

Richard: We just went to a ward office to register the marriage.

No ceremony anywhere. I was busy working.

Junko: We went to the ward office on Oct. 2, 2007.

Did you do anything on your first anniversary?

Richard: No. I’m not good at arranging something for anniversaries. But we want to have a wedding ceremony sometime.

What is your son’s name?

Richard: In the Japanese “koseki” (residence registry) it’s Ramon Hirose. I was hoping his English name to be Ethan James Northcott, but the Australian Embassy told us it needs to be Ramon Ethan James Northcott on his Australian registration because Ramon is in the Japanese residence registry. We are hoping to give our son as many options as possible. Two names and two languages are part of that.

Did Ramon have his first birthday party?

Richard: Yes. We do every event for our son. “Omiya-mairi” (a Shinto ceremony for 1-month-old babies), Kodomo-no-hi (Boys’ Day) and so on.

Junko: That’s because I plan them. (laughs)

Did you baptize your son?

Richard: We planned to have it done in my father’s family church in Britain in a christening gown used in our family for generations. We tried last year, but Junko hurt her back and we couldn’t go.

What language do you speak to your son?

Richard: 80 percent in English. 20 percent in Japanese. I try to speak English as much as possible, even though Japanese is my language of choice.

Junko: 100 percent Japanese. Richard and I speak Japanese all the time.

How do you plan to educate your son?

Richard: I want him to eventually be able to go to a school in Britain.

Junko: It’s up to Ramon.

Richard: In Japan, we want to send him to a school with a bilingual environment, and then I am thinking of a boarding school. All to give him the best chance to make his choices.

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