Hiroshi Kato, 40, born in Sendai and raised in Kawasaki, met his wife Ying — from Harbin in northeast China — in Tokyo in fall 2007.
Ying, 32, who followed her older sister to Japan in 2001, was working as a secretary at a software development company. Hiroshi worked for a firm that sent engineers to work at Ying’s company. He was in charge of taking the engineers to the office, and Ying was the contact person there.
Hiroshi, who quickly took to Ying, went out with her for yakiniku (barbecue) near Shinjuku, and they started dating.
The couple married less than a year later, and held a ceremony in Hawaii in April the following year.
Hiroshi currently is CEO of a web system development company, and Ying has just started working for a trading firm that exports Japanese goods to China. The couple live in a three-story house in Kawasaki with dogs Ton Ton and Ken Ken.
What was your first impression of Hiroshi?
Ying: I liked his looks. I like men with big builds. He was always smiling, and looked gentle. I was touched when I later found out that he booked a nice seat for us at the restaurant on our first date. He also called me up every day, which was nice.
Hiroshi: I think that’s normal, isn’t it?
Did you like Ying from the beginning?
Ying: What did you like about me?
Hiroshi: I don’t know. But she made the first move.
Ying: You asked me out on a date first! Anyway, he was my type, so I kept on saying “Ii ne, ii ne (it’s nice)” throughout our first date. I was 27 at the time, and was trying to find a husband. In China, most girls get married before 30. I was under pressure from my parents to get married as soon as possible.
Hiroshi: I felt pressed to get married, too. I was 36. I always had the desire to have a family, but failed in all my other relationships. I had a very bad experience with my previous girlfriend before meeting Ying, so I felt the urgency to find the right person this time.
When did the thought of marriage come into the picture?
Hiroshi: Ying talked about getting married about two months after we started dating. I thought, “Isn’t it a bit too early? We should know each other more closely before we decide.” I told her that I wanted to spend time with her for at least a year before we actually got married.
Ying: I said, “What do you mean by ‘know’ (each other)? Who do you think you are?” He was the first person that I really wanted to marry, so I thought we must get married quickly. I also wanted him to take me to see his parents. In China, we value families, so we normally take our partners to the parents’ place earlier on in the relationship.
So when did the parents enter the scene?
Hiroshi: I met Ying’s parents first. Her parents were visiting Japan around Golden Week for three months. She wanted me to come to the airport with her. I didn’t know at the time that Ying’s parents were against the marriage and wanted us to split up.
Ying: They were against an international marriage. They thought if I was planing to go back to China in the future, I should get married to a Chinese. My mom would phone me crying, and beg me to split up with Hiroshi. But I wanted to get married to him, and wanted them to see Hiroshi before saying anything.
Hiroshi: When I met them for the first time at Narita, they immediately liked me.
Ying: Because he looked gentle. And he looked like my older brother.
Hiroshi: Then, once they liked me, they wanted us to get married quickly. They were mad that I was just saying (that we would get married) and wasn’t actually doing anything. Chinese people hate waiting. When they decide on something, they need to move forward with it.
Ying: Yes, maybe it’s a Chinese thing. My parents and I thought that we should at least decide on the (wedding) date while my parents were in Tokyo.
Hiroshi: We went to see my parents soon after. My parents are quite liberal, and I knew that they wouldn’t meddle with me — whoever I chose to marry.
What was the proposal like?
Hiroshi: I’ve always felt that proposals should come from men. I chose June 21 (a favorite number, as his birthday is Aug. 21), took her to Odaiba in the evening and proposed her on the Ferris wheel viewing out at the city lights.
Ying: I hate Ferris wheels, but he insisted that we go on it. He suddenly stood up at the top, and said, “Will you go on my ikada (raft) with me? It’s a rundown raft, but we can work together so that it won’t sink.” I didn’t know the Japanese word ikada, but could figure out what he was trying to say. Then, he gave me a ring.
Hiroshi: No, no. That’s not quite accurate. I said, “Marriage is like going out into the big ocean on a ship. Once we’re out there, we can’t get off on the way. We might get caught in a storm. It’s a rundown ikada — not a luxury liner — but let’s overcome any hardship hand in hand.”
Ying: Did I cry?
Hiroshi: No, you thought it was funny, and burst into laughter!
How did you tell Ying’s parents about the marriage?
Hiroshi: We went to a shabu-shabu (boiled meat) restaurant with Ying’s parents. Midway through dinner, I took out a letter (written in Chinese and Japanese) asking for their permission, and read it out loud in Japanese.
Ying: My parents cried with joy. Hiroshi wore a suit, and bowed with his legs folded. In China, people rarely do such things. There’s a Chinese saying that your knees are very precious, and there’s gold in your knees. You kneel only to God or to your parents at special occasions. Then Hiroshi said, “Can I give her the ring?” and put a ring on my finger. My mother took a photo of us. I treasure this photo.
Hiroshi: A few hours later, we went to register the marriage. I wanted to get married on July 7, because I love Mazda’s sports car RX-7. A lot of RX-7 lovers get married on this day.
What are the good points about an international marriage?
Hiroshi: Getting to know a different culture is quite rewarding.
Ying: It’s interesting to always guess what the partner is thinking. I learn something new every day — whether it’s the culture or the language.
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