When Mel Ushikubo, 35, saw the name of her future husband, Kohei, on the Internet, she immediately wanted to see him in person, as that was the name of a character in one of her favorite anime.
“I was an anime freak, and saw about 100 anime, including ‘Naruto,’ ‘One Piece’ and ‘Orange Road’ in Canada.”
The couple met in Vancouver in September 2006, first getting in touch with each other through the website of Vancouver Japanese Language Meetup, a group that arranges exchange programs between Japanese and Canadians.
Kohei, now 33, was pursuing an MBA at a university in Vancouver. After meeting the Chiba Prefecture native for the first time, Mel immediately wanted to see him again, so she e-mailed him inviting him to a party the following week. After three weeks of hanging out together, they started dating.
Kohei’s MBA course ended in December 2006 and he came back to Japan. Mel, a native of Ottawa, came to Japan on a working holiday visa the following March. They lived together for a year and got married in February 2008. They now reside in Ota Ward, Tokyo, with their 19-month-old daughter, Chihana.
What do you do for a living?
Kohei: Before going to Canada, I worked for a life insurance company for three years. Then, after returning to Japan from Canada, I worked in the sales operation section at Dell Japan for four years. I’m between jobs at the moment and will start working for the Walt Disney Co. Japan next week.
Mel: I’m a singer-songwriter. I’m the vocalist for the pop band Duel that I do with another Japanese musician, and I write lyrics for its original songs. Back in Canada, I was a graphic designer and programmer for eight years. When I reached 30 I decided to do something that I really liked, which was music. I wanted to sing Japanese songs in Japanese. After coming to Japan, I taught private English lessons to 25 students, and did some modeling, too, apart from music-related work.
What language do you use when you talk to each other and to your daughter?
Kohei: Half Japanese and half English. We talk to Chihana mainly in Japanese.
Mel: Chihana goes to a Japanese nursery, so she talks in Japanese there, too. Lately, I try to talk to her more in English. We haven’t decided yet, but we plan to send her to a local Japanese school, and during the summer she can go to summer school in Canada. We want her to be bilingual in the future.
What do you think of each other’s jobs?
Kohei: Mel should do whatever she wants to do. I don’t believe in only women doing housework. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, you should do both housework and your job. We want to enjoy both, and make life worthwhile.
Mel: You know, I don’t work for money. It’s OK if Kohei wants to earn money, but he should definitely enjoy his work. I felt that he was too busy working for Dell, doing a lot of overtime, so I advised him to change jobs. What’s the meaning in being married if your spouse comes home late and you don’t see each other very much?
What are the good points about having a partner from a foreign country?
Kohei: First of all, I found out a different way of thinking about life and work. Second, I was able to make new foreign friends through Mel, especially couples like us. Third, I could improve my English. I worked for a foreign company, so it was an advantage for me to have a foreign partner and to be able to ask her questions about English grammar or expressions.
Mel: I didn’t marry Kohei because he is Japanese. I married him because I like Kohei very much. I don’t know about other Japanese men, but Kohei is majime (serious) and considerate. Kohei would do all the paperwork for me, which is mostly Japanese. For example, Kohei wrote the forms for entry to Chihana’s nursery.
(Mel is currently attending school learning to read and write Japanese.)
How did your parents react to the marriage?
Mel: They were happy. I’ve been divorced, so they wanted me to find someone good and majime, who will put in an effort to make a good life with me. They miss me, though, because I’m far away in Japan and we can’t see each other very often. We went to see them twice in the last four years.
Kohei: Basically, my parents leave me alone and don’t say anything. I really like Mel’s parents. Mel’s father is always cracking jokes and we share the same hobby, which is fishing.
Mel: Kohei’s parents are very nice and funny. When we told Kohei’s father about our marriage, he said to me, “Is it really OK for you to marry someone like Kohei?” I want to communicate with them more, so that is one of the reasons why I’m learning Japanese at the moment.
What kind of wedding did you have?
Mel: We had a wedding in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, near Kohei’s hometown.
Kohei: It was a Shinto-style wedding. Mel wore shiromuku (white wedding kimono). The whole family wore kimono, including Mel’s parents and older sister. A wedding party in Azabu Juban followed.
What was the proposal like?
Kohei: I proposed to her at my apartment. We were talking about what we should do after Mel’s visa expired. I said to her, “Would you marry me?”
Mel: No, no, it wasn’t like that. We talked about getting married at a hotel in Kanazawa. I told Kohei that I wanted to have a baby. I explained the math, saying that I didn’t want to wait until I was 40 to have my first child. Then, Kohei told me that we should get married.
Kohei: That’s right. Then I proposed to her properly at my apartment.
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