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For academic pair, viva art, history

by Natsuko Fukue

Junko Kume and Isaac Ait Moreno moved to Tokyo last September for work, but they say it does not matter where they live as long as they can be together.

The 34-year-old Japanese senior assistant professor and her 32-year-old husband from Spain, who married in 2006, lived mostly in Madrid but also spent several months in both New York and Paris.

The international couple, who have both studied art history, hope to spread Spanish culture and language to Japanese.

Why did you go to Spain?

Junko: I was drawn to Spanish art, especially after I saw a copy of a 10th century Spanish manuscript used on a CD cover. I started studying Spanish after graduating from university, and moved to Madrid seven years ago to do a Ph.D. in Spanish art history.

How did you meet?

Junko: I was introduced to Isaac by our common Japanese friend, who was also studying art history in Madrid.

When did you start dating?

Isaac: About one or two weeks after we first met.

Junko: My Japanese friend and I were planning to go on an excursion one day, and Isaac joined us. While the friend was away making an international telephone call to Japan, we decided to start dating. We were holding hands when our friend came back. I hesitated at first because I even didn’t know how long I would stay in Madrid. But I thought to myself, “I’m in Spain. Let it be.”

Did any memorable event happen while you were dating?

Junko: Soon after we started dating, we went to a Japanese restaurant and ordered a sashimi lunch. He saw a pile of wasabi, and ate it all in one go!

Isaac: I thought it was an avocado . . .

Junko: I remember he was trying hard to look OK, wiping tears from his eyes. Now he loves wasabi so much that he even eats it with croquettes.

Apart from art history, what else do you have in common?

Junko: We both like music. We actually formed a punk band in Spain. I played the drum.

Isaac: And I was the lead vocalist because I cannot play any musical instrument.

Junko: He basically sang in Spanish, but I translated one song into Japanese. The lyrics just went like “yama, yama, Supein no yama” (mountain, mountain, Spanish mountain). We were also off-pitch, but we used to say it’s fine because we’re a punk band.

What kind of wedding ceremony did you have?

Junko: We married at a City Hall near Plaza Mayor because neither of us is Catholic.

Isaac: She wore a kimono.

Junko: When the acting deputy mayor announced my name, she added “don,” which is an honorific used for men. In Spain, a name that ends with “o” is a man’s name. Maybe they got confused also because same-sex marriages have been approved there.

Do you feel any cultural differences when communicating with your partner?

Isaac: She seems a little impatient, but I like most things about her.

Junko: We cannot cook together. He is too slow to cook something that needs speed, like boiling pasta. When the pasta is ready, he would be still cutting a cabbage leaf by leaf.

He is shy and considerate like many Japanese. But I thought he was truly Spanish when he welcomed me at the airport in a suit, holding a rose and chocolate.

Why did you come back to Japan?

Junko: We were looking for work, but it was difficult in Spain, especially for me. Then I got a teaching job in Tokyo, so we moved here.

Did you have any culture shock?

Isaac: Not so much. I like Japanese politeness. Even shop assistants are very polite in Japan, which is a contrast to Spain.

But one thing I don’t understand is “reikin” (appreciation money). We’re renting a place. Why do we have to give money to thank the landlord?

I also feel that the Japanese way of family relationships is different from that of Spain. Spanish people are very close to their other family members. Japanese seem to be distant with their relations.

What do you do now and what do you want to do in the future?

Junko: I’m teaching Spanish language and culture at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

Isaac: I’m studying Japanese right now. I hope to study Japanese art history and want to teach Spanish here.