“People say it’s like a love story in a Bollywood movie,” says Paul Rajesh, 34, who was born in Manali, a town in northern India’s Himachal Pradesh state.
After his family resided in different parts of India, Paul returned to Manali to work at a hotel owned by his uncle. It was there that he met his future wife, Makiko, now 31, when she passed through in her backpacking days in 2003.
Makiko’s first destination of the trip was the town of Leh in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir state. It is there that the Ladakh festival is held every year, and Makiko wanted to see various troupes from different parts of Ladakh dance and sing to traditional music while wearing traditional costumes.
Makiko first flew to New Delhi from Japan. Because there was no direct transportation connecting Delhi to Ladakh, she stopped in Manali, a small town from which long-distance buses depart for Ladakh. She happened to find a hotel across from the bus terminal — the very hotel where Paul was working as a receptionist and guide. They got closer to each other when Paul gave her some information about Ladakh — how to get there, what to see and so forth.
After returning from Ladakh, Makiko stopped off again at Manali for about two weeks before setting off toward south India and the rest of her trip. Paul asked Makiko to come back just before his birthday and Makiko agreed, arriving in Manali just in time to celebrate Paul’s special day.
After she returned to Japan they kept in touch via e-mail and telephone, and Makiko ended up returning to Manali less than a year later. After staying in the town for about six months, she got married to Paul there and the couple moved to Japan in 2005.
Paul spoke no Japanese at the time, so there were hardships to overcome, such as learning the language and finding a job. Five years later, the couple now live in Chiba Prefecture with their 1 1/2-year- old daughter Manali — named after the town where the couple first met.
What do you do to make a living?
Paul: I’m a sales manager at a hotel in central Tokyo. It’s my sixth year working there. The hotel wanted someone who spoke English at the time, so I was lucky to get the job. I couldn’t speak any Japanese back then, though, so my wife and I were surprised that I got the job. Thanks to my job, in which I use Japanese every day, and intensive Japanese reading and writing lessons I privately took for about a year at a cram school, I’m much more efficient with Japanese now.
Makiko: I used to be an office worker at a small company, but I quit after I got married to Paul, and I’m a housewife now. I do all the housework and look after our daughter, as Paul works till very late at night on weekdays.
Paul: It depends on the day, but I often come home after midnight. I used to be surprised at the long hours that Japanese people worked, but now I’m just the same.
What was the proposal like?
Paul: I said to her spontaneously that we should get married, and she accepted that. It was a quick decision, as I made up my mind during the one month that she was in India. It was something like love at first sight.
Makiko: I shared the same feeling as Paul, so it was very natural for me to accept his proposal.
What kind of wedding did you have?
Paul: We registered the marriage in India in January 2005, and the wedding followed in Fiji in 2006.
Makiko: We had the wedding with just the five of us: Paul, my parents, my younger sister and I. I wanted to have a holiday in Fiji and take days off work, so it was great to combine the wedding with a honeymoon afterward.
What were your parents’ reactions to the marriage?
Makiko: They weren’t against the marriage, although I think my mother was worried about (an international marriage). Paul met my parents for the first time in Japan in May 2005 after the marriage registration in India, and when Paul said to them in Japanese: “I should have come to talk to you before. I’m sorry that we informed you about our marriage after it happened,” my parents burst into tears. Paul and I cried, too.
Paul: Actually, I practiced the phrase in Japanese many times. On my side, both of my parents had passed away and I don’t have any siblings, so I thought that I should come and live in Japan, as Makiko has her family here.
What language do you speak to each other?
Paul: In the beginning, Japanese was the main language and a little bit of English when I couldn’t understand something in Japanese. About half a year later, though, our communication became 100 percent Japanese.
Makiko: My English-speaking ability is poor and I don’t speak any Bengali, which is Paul’s first language, so we automatically ended up speaking in Japanese.
What language do you speak to your daughter and what kind of education would you like her to get?
Paul: Japanese almost all the time, except when I go out for a walk with her alone, which is the only time I speak to her in English. When we’re at home, the family communicates in Japanese.
Makiko: When she grows up, she’ll have English classes at school and I’m sure she’ll say to her dad, “Why didn’t you speak to me in English? I’m having trouble in class!”
Paul: Of course, I want her to learn English, which is an important language worldwide. However, I want her to go to a local Japanese school, and not to an international school where a lot of foreigners choose to put their children into. She can learn English at a Japanese school, too.
Makiko: If she has the intention to learn English, then she can. It’s all up to her.
Paul: When she grows up, I want to tell her good things about India and Indian culture, too.
Have you felt any cultural differences in everyday life and in your marriage?
Makiko: Very early on in our marriage, I was surprised when Paul was taking a cold-water shower (which is normal in India).
Paul: I don’t do that anymore. I love the “onsen” now. As for me, I haven’t felt any cultural differences until now. As a hotel man in India, I’ve always been interested in and communicated with people from different countries, including Japan, so it was quite easy for me to adapt to Japan.
What are your plans for the future?
Paul: Money is not the main priority for me. I’m happy if I have job satisfaction and just about enough money to make a living. I would like to start up my own business, though. For example, open a “ryokan” (Japanese-style inn) or something in the countryside and cultivate our own field, too. I want us to lead a slow life there. And then in 25 to 30 years’ time, we might live half and half in Japan and India. In India, there is a “joint family” tradition in which different generations live in the same household, so I dream of doing that.
Makiko: I’m also very fond of the countryside. I want to be near nature and have a goat as a pet. When we’re old, it would be ideal to have our daughter come around to our house with her children from time to time.
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