Zuzana Koike, a 29-year-old Austrian national of Slovak extraction, never thought she would even visit Japan before meeting and marrying Takeshi Koike, 38, a lecturer at Daito Bunka University in Tokyo.
The two met in 2000 at a gathering of the Catholic Students’ Union at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where Zuzana was an undergraduate student and Takeshi was engaged in postgraduate linguistics study. Zuzana grew up in a Catholic family, while Takeshi, inspired by Mother Teresa, was baptized after finishing college in Japan.
“She worked for the poorest of the poor. In the same spirit, I want to spend my time with my students, wife and children,” Takeshi said.
The couple now live in Saitama Prefecture and have two girls, Sayuri, 4, and Kana, 1.
What was your first impression of your partner?
Zuzana: Well, he was very polite, and I thought he was a bit boring at first (laughs). But my impression changed when we went for a walk one day (with other CSS members).
We were far behind the other members because he likes to walk very slowly. At some point we started talking about music. Then he took out his ukulele and started singing Japanese songs. It was so much fun, and my impression of him completely changed.
What did your parents say about you marrying a foreigner?
Zuzana: My father approved of our marriage because he liked my husband. My mother said, “Don’t you dare marry a Japanese. Who will visit you in Japan?” But now she loves coming here.
Takeshi: First of all, I wrote a letter to my parents (from Edinburgh) announcing that I was going to marry a European woman. After that, I talked with them on the phone, and they said they were shocked. And then, a couple of months later, before our wedding, I went back to Japan to explain, and we had a major discussion with my family about whether to approve of the marriage.
My father said, “What can I say when I haven’t seen the woman?” My mother said, “We have to trust our son that he chose the right woman.”
In the end, they decided to trust me, and I later brought Zuzana and introduced her to my parents. They immediately liked her.
Where did you have your wedding ceremony?
Takeshi: In Slovakia. Zuzana finished her studies in July 2003. She grew up in Austria, but she is originally from Slovakia, so we had a wedding ceremony there where all her relatives still live.
What was your wedding like in Slovakia? What did you do?
Takeshi: It took three days. First of all, we had a church wedding. That was quite spectacular. Her family has a summer house on a mountain in Slovakia. From that house, we rode a horse carriage to the church. It’s not like a rental carriage. That’s something used daily by local people.
Zuzana: He was singing “Banzai” at the party.
Takeshi: A song by (Japanese rock band) Ulfuls. That’s my specialty.
Zuzana: We also had a Scottish dance performance on the first day because our friends from Scotland came to celebrate us. And a friend brought a bagpipe.
Before marriage, did you imagine yourself living in Japan?
Zuzana: No, I never imagined I’d live in Japan after graduating from university. A friend from the university was studying Japanese and I thought I could never study such a difficult language. Now I’m very happy I have the chance to learn it. As we live with my husband’s parents, I have to speak Japanese with them every day, so I learn quite fast.
Are there any difficulties adjusting to life in Japan?
Zuzana: We live with Takeshi’s parents, so it’s fairly easy for me. They always teach me about Japanese culture. I still find it difficult to cope with humidity in summer and low temperature in the house in winter, though. I cannot sleep well in the hot summer, and it is hard to get up early in the cold winter, because I am used to having a central heating system in Austria.
Are there times when you feel a cultural difference with your spouse?
Zuzana: Working spirit is different. I want to spend summer in Austria but he’s getting less and less time for vacation. I hope he can spare more time with us. Takeshi: We spend hours and hours for a meeting at the university. When I was in Edinburgh, their meetings lasted about 1 1/2 hours. They said the meeting was really long! I think if we work more efficiently and communicate better, we’ll have more free time.
What language do you use at home?
Takeshi: She speaks Slovak to the kids and I speak Japanese to them. My parents only speak Japanese. My wife and I talk in English.
What kindergarten does your daughter go to?
Zuzana: Japanese kindergarten. I want her to go to a regular Japanese school.
Takeshi: I think it’s important that our kids belong to at least one culture.
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