Kim and Junko Knudsen’s house is full of American primitive country decor they brought back from their honeymoon in the U.S. South. The couple love country music, too, and plan to live in the United States or Canada in the near future.
Kim, 41, who was born in Panama of a Panamanian mother and Danish father, was raised in Panama City until he was 18. Later, he lived in Florida for a year and went to university in Victoria, British Columbia, where he studied Japanese. He first came to Japan in 1992 and worked as an English and Spanish teacher in Osaka for two years, went to Denmark for six years, and then returned to Tokyo. Kim has lived in Japan for 11 years now, and married Junko, 37, who hails from Nara Prefecture, two years ago.
The couple live in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, with their dog, Tuffy, and cat, Kogoro.
How did you meet, and what kind of impression did you have of each other?
Kim: We met in my previous job at a patent law firm about seven years ago. We were sitting next to each other. We both liked cats, and we started talking about them.
Junko: I had never been close to a foreigner before, so I only thought things like “Wow, he has such a high nose!” and “Does he eat natto (fermented beans)?”
Kim: Junko was different and very nice.
How did you start dating?
Kim: At first, I think I asked her out for Indian food near our office.
Junko: Then we started seeing each other. We went out for about five years. We started living together after two years of dating.
What was the proposal like?
Kim: I proposed to her for the first time in the first year of dating. After that, I proposed to her countless times. I never gave up and kept on trying again.
Junko: At first, I would just lightly ignore his proposals! But when Kim’s mom came to Japan from Germany for the first time, we decided to get married. It was like a present for her.
Kim: Mom told me, “You’re getting too old. You’ve got to get married.”
Did you go and see your parents after the marriage?
Kim: Right after we got married, we went to Germany to see my mom. Then we went to Denmark to see my dad.
Junko: When we were having dinner with Kim’s family in Denmark, I had four glasses of schnapps. I normally don’t have alcohol, but I had it, because it was very delicious. Then, I slept right in the middle of dinner. I had a strange dream that Kim’s younger brother was selling bacon with a squirrel in his arms. It was difficult to explain about this dream to his brother in English!
Kim: When we went to see Junko’s parents, I spoke in Japanese. I was a little nervous, but it was quite OK.
What language do you speak to each other?
Kim: We mix Japanese and English. We want to make our home international. Junko is learning English a lot now.
Junko: I’m working hard at it. Kim speaks good Japanese, but I think it’s sometimes difficult for him to understand when I talk about, for example, expressions that appear in Japanese manga. Also, I can’t use double negation like “It’s not that I wouldn’t do it.” I think that kind of expression in Japanese is difficult for Kim to understand.
Kim: Regardless of how long I’ve studied the language, there are still a lot of things I don’t know. Nuance in Japanese is difficult. You have to feel it in order to understand it.
Do you find any cultural differences?
Junko: Kim uses a lot of gestures when he talks. Each time he makes a big gesture, I am surprised by it.
Kim: Junko notices a lot more than I do. In Japan, people notice a lot. For example, if you’re walking and somebody goes behind you by bicycle and they don’t ring the bell, I won’t move out of the way. But Japanese people move out of the way automatically.
Junko: A good cultural difference is that Kim values family, including our cat and dog, more than work. Kim does all the housework. I’m like an ojichan (middle-aged man) from the Showa period and say things like “Ocha! (Bring me Japanese tea!)”
Kim: I can’t sit still. I like to get things cleaned. When it’s done, I feel very good and relaxed. Everyone can rest at home after that. I think work is the engine of life, and home is the most important thing.
What do you do for a living, and what’s your plan for the future?
Kim: I work for the hospitality industry. My dream is to have a small cottage or bed and breakfast away from the city — surrounded by nature — where people can come and relax.
Junko: I used to be a computer system instructor at a Japanese firm. Now, I’m an instructor at a vocational training school. In the future, I want to study career counseling in the U.S. I would also like to help Kim with the bed and breakfast, but maybe I won’t do much. Kim will do the main job, I think.
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