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Belgian no waffler on love, life in Japan

by Mariko Kato

Pascal Latui, 28, first fell for Yumiko, 36, on a backpacking trip in Japan in June 2006. She was a receptionist at the Tokyo youth hostel where he was staying.

Though he returned home to Belgium after 20 days, he was determined to return to Japan to see Yumiko again. He did so three months later, and two months after that they were married.

Despite the whirlwind romance, Pascal and Yumiko were both convinced they wanted to build a life together in Japan. Now, 2 1/2 years after tying the knot, they live near the Taito Ward hostel where they met and where Yumiko still works.

Pascal, employed at an international relocation company in Roppongi, has immersed himself in Japanese culture, participating in local festivals and making weekly pilgrimages to the electronics shops in Akihabara.

Was it love at first sight?

Pascal: Yes it was. Actually, my mum had said before I came to Japan, “Please don’t get married to a Japanese girl!” I came because I had never really traveled so far before, and I was interested in Japanese culture.

Yumiko: Especially “anime” (animation).He’s kind of an “otaku” (nerd)!

Pascal: Japanese anime was very popular among people my age in Belgium and France, like “City Hunter” and “Dragon Ball” from the 1980s and ’90s.

Yumiko: To be honest, he wasn’t so memorable at the beginning because my hotel has many people coming from overseas. We met through a mutual friend who was staying at the hotel, and she asked me to have dinner with Pascal. We’re friendly and easygoing at the hotel, and tend to go out to dinner with guests. My first impression of him was that he was really shy. He only said yes or no!

Were you just friends when Pascal left after 20 days?

Yumiko: Yes, just friends. When he left he said he would e-mail me, but I didn’t believe him, as lots of guests say that. But he e-mailed and called me constantly.

Pascal: I was very sad to leave; it was much too short. That’s why I decided to come back, and I told her how I felt.

Yumiko: I was very surprised and happy when he got an airline ticket. But because he only had a tourist visa for three months, I was worried about what would happen afterward. He asked me if I could live with him in Belgium, but I knew that I could only live in Japan. So he said, “I really like Japan so (let’s do that).”

Why did you decide to get married?

Pascal: We had the conversation after about two months (into his tourist visa). We didn’t want to go back and forth between the two countries. You can’t build a relationship like that.

Yumiko: I didn’t think everything would go so well. But we were getting really close, and he was really honest and always respected my parents.

Pascal: It was very difficult to get a job (before we were married), but once I got the spouse visa, I got a job after one week.

What drew you to each other?

Pascal: When we met she was very interesting — always had something to say. She matches my personality; we’re opposites.

Yumiko: He has a lot of things I don’t have. And I just trust him.

What were your parents’ reactions when you told them the news?

Yumiko: My parents were actually worried for Pascal because I’m eight years older! They were surprised that he was Belgian, but he was so nice that my mother said to me, “You’re the luckiest girl on the planet!”

Pascal: When I went back to Belgium, I told Mum I’d met a Japanese girl and showed her pictures. Lots of people in my family were happy for me. They said, “It’s your life; you should carry on.”

Do you have any culture clashes in your marriage?

Yumiko: He is completely Japanese, more than me actually. He has a humble attitude and is polite to strangers.

Pascal: It feels more comfortable living in Japan. People are polite to each other, and I feel more secure; you can go anywhere at night. Yumiko is not a very traditional type, so we adapted to each other.

Yumiko: One different thing is, he’s never negative about his own country, but Japanese people are not positive about Japan. For example, he says that when watching a soccer match, even when Japanese players are really bad, we should support them more!

Pascal: Yes, I think that’s a difference. European people, even if they think their team is going to lose, they will support them. In Japan, even if they’re really good, they expect more. Although I guess that’s why everything here is of a high standard.

Is there anything you don’t like about each other?

Pascal: She’s quite hot-tempered! But that’s fine with me.

Yumiko: I always get angry about very small things, and I get angrier because he doesn’t get angry! I feel like he completely ignores me when I’m shouting.

What language do you use to speak to each other?

Pascal: We speak English together, and at work I speak English, French or Dutch. But I really should study Japanese because I’m really ashamed when I can’t ask for basic stuff at the shops.

Yumiko: It’s partly my fault because he sometimes asks me what some things mean but I’m lazy so I tell him to look it up in the dictionary.

Pascal, is there anything you don’t like about Japan?

Pascal: Sometimes I get stopped when I’m on my bicycle because I’m a foreigner. Even my French friend, who’s lived here for four years, got questioned three days in a row.

He got very upset and went to the “koban” (police post), and they said they wouldn’t do it any more! I guess they do it because they’re not very busy, and they’re very nice, but it’s irritating when you’re stopped by three or four policemen.

Do you normally eat Japanese or Belgian food?

Pascal: I cook once a week, Belgian sometimes, but mostly pasta! Belgian cooking is similar to French, but very casual and easy to make.

Yumiko: I love Belgian food, especially mussels in consomme or cream. There’s a very nice Belgian restaurant in Ginza called Antwerp Six.

Pascal: We are very picky about the mussels in Belgium and they all come from Holland, Spanish mussels are too big. I was surprised because at this restaurant they were very small. They come from Kobe.

What do you do together?

Yumiko: We go shopping, or take the dog out for a walk. And he really likes local festivals — he recently carried an “omikoshi” (portable shrine).

Pascal: It’s nice to meet people that way.

Yumiko: He also really likes Akihabara. He calls it a holy place! But I hate it. It’s so boring, and he always makes me translate with the staff.

Pascal: Shops aren’t centralized like in Europe, so it’s great.

Do you ever think about living in Belgium?

Yumiko: No, I’m very close to my parents, so I never think about leaving.

Pascal: I’m very happy to be living here for a long time. It’s so convenient here, I don’t think I could live in Belgium anymore. I miss friends and family, but you have to make a choice.

If we lived in Belgium, she wouldn’t be able to see her family, and I feel more comfortable living abroad than she does.

Do you plan to have children?

Pascal: Yes, but it will be difficult because Japan does not provide good child care.

Yumiko: Maybe in the future but not now, because it would be difficult to go back to work. And if we were to have children, sending them to an international school would be way too expensive.

Pascal: I’d want my children to grow up in Japanese culture, to be normal Japanese kids. As for language, we would speak English and French together.

Yumiko: We could put them in English conversation school. At home, we would teach them Japanese and French.

Reader participation is invited for this series, which appears every other Saturday. If you wish to be featured, please e-mail hodobu@japantimes.co.jp