American Chris Holland and Lisa Kakinoki from Yokohama, both 26, first met in 2006 when they were studying at J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo.
Chris was a philosophy major at the University of Hawaii who was visiting on a one-year program to study Japanese and learning wadaiko (Japanese drumming).
Lisa, born in Ibaraki Prefecture and raised in Kanagawa, was majoring in cross-cultural communications. As part of her studies, she was looking for foreign students who would answer a questionnaire on culture shock when the two were introduced by a mutual friend.
Chris, while filling out the questionnaire, immediately took a liking to Lisa, and asked her out for lunch. After a few bumps, they started dating, and got married four years later in March last year.
Chris was born and raised in Colorado to a Japanese-American mother and a father with Irish, German and Swedish ancestry. He first got acquainted with taiko drums at a summer Bon festival held at Nishi Honganji Temple branch in Denver.
He started learning taiko at a community group when he was 8, and at age 17, met his current teacher, Yoichi Watanabe, from the taiko group Amanojaku, who was visiting the Denver temple to teach taiko. Inspired by Watanabe’s drumming, Chris came to Japan in 2006 to learn taiko professionally under him, and met Lisa the same year.
Currently, Chris is a taiko drummer with his mentor’s group. He also teaches English and athletics to young children, and taiko to adults. His wife has recently quit her job as an administrator for a members-only restaurant, and has joined a modeling agency to receive training to become a professional model. The couple live in Kita Ward. Coincidentally, both of them have younger sisters born on the same day of the same year.
How did you start dating?
Lisa: I had a boyfriend at the time, so I didn’t think of going out with Chris.
Chris: I asked Lisa in very bad Japanese if she was happy with her boyfriend. She thought long and hard, and decided that she would be happier with me.
Lisa: I had a dream of studying English and getting a job abroad, but my previous boyfriend didn’t understand this dream. Chris appeared in front of me at this time, and he kept asking me, “Can I see you? Can we go out for lunch?” I thought that my boyfriend was not someone I could be with in the future, so I split up with him. I thought I shouldn’t go out with Chris right away, but after a few weeks I thought, maybe it’s OK now.
How was the relationship before getting married?
Lisa: The first year, we couldn’t communicate very well. I spoke little English and Chris spoke little Japanese. The second year, we were living in different countries, which was difficult. The third year, Chris came to Japan, but the relationship didn’t work out well then. The customers at my workplace were rich, and they would give me better presents than Chris on my birthday. Gradually, our conversations wouldn’t click.
Chris: Lisa didn’t really understand taiko. She didn’t really understand how I had a dream. I never really cared much about money. When I came to Japan, I immediately wanted to become a professional taiko player, so I didn’t take on any part-time jobs. I was really, really poor for about half a year.
Lisa: It was not until we decided to get married that our relationship got better.
How did the relationship work out in the end?
Lisa: It started to work out when I started having a dream of my own. Until then, I wanted to have a stable life, so I had a full-time office job. But I decided to quit in order to apply for a modeling agency. Being a part-timer is very unstable. But Chris has been chasing his dream for a long time — in a faraway country like Japan, and that’s awesome. I started respecting Chris.
Until then, I liked going to luxurious restaurants and being given presents on anniversaries — just the usual things that a girl would want from her boyfriend. But I didn’t need that anymore. I thought that respecting each other’s dreams was more important.
When did you decide to get married?
Chris: I grew up in Colorado, where there are mountains, and the nature is great. I missed that. One day, I started going to the mountains in Japan. I went a lot and wanted to live in the mountains.
It was really cold one night up in the mountains — I was sleeping in a sleeping bag — I thought I was nearly dying. Then I started feeling really warm and started thinking about my life — what is most important, and what life means to me. All I could think about was how I wanted to be with Lisa. That’s when I decided that I wasn’t going to live in the mountains. I was going to make money, I was going to buy a ring, I was going to try to be a good person. I went back to Tokyo and saw Lisa the next day. That day, I guess I decided to get married to her.
What was the proposal like?
Chris: At first, we just wanted to live together, but Lisa’s parents insisted that we be married. One day, we were called over to Lisa’s house, were sat down at a table and were told to sign a written oath promising that we would register the marriage by March. I felt like Lisa got cheated out of a good proposal, so I tried to plan something a little more romantic.
It was a rainy day, and I asked Lisa to come to J.F. Oberlin’s campus. I told her that a mutual friend was going to take photos for my profile. I took her around the campus, asking her if she remembered all the different places that held some kind of special meaning to us: the first place we met, the first place we hung out. At the very end, I took her to the middle of the courtyard and asked her one last time, “Do you remember here?” We had never been there together before, so she couldn’t answer. I told her, “This is where I proposed to you.” I got down on one knee, pulled out a ring and asked her to marry me, to which she responded, “Arigato!”
What kind of cultural differences do you feel?
Chris: When we first started dating, there were little things like Lisa expecting me to read into what she was trying to say without her actually saying it.
Lisa: Chris still wasn’t used to that part of Japanese culture.
Chris: In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re Japanese or American. Even if we have different cultures and different languages, we are all humans — everyone wants the same things. We want friendship, we want love, we want to be happy.
What are your plans for the future?
Chris: My dream for the near future is to make a living only on taiko — for it to be enough money to have kids.
Lisa: I want to be a successful TV commercial and magazine model.
Chris: And we can happily raise a family together.
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