Shiro Matsuoka, 39, from Kawasaki, and Zhang Yi, 33, who hails from Changchung, China, first met in 2004 when they were working part-time at a McDonald’s in Tokyo.

Shiro was studying to become a chiropractor and Yi was studying English, and they worked early in the morning before going to their schools. Coincidentally, both had other part-time jobs at izakaya (pubs) in the same chain to pay their school fees and cover living expenses.

One morning, they started chatting on their way to work. Later, Shiro told Yi that he’d buy her a dinner if she ever visited the izakaya he worked at, and Yi, upon quitting McDonald’s, gave Shiro her phone number. After a few phone calls, they began dating. The couple went out together for 3½ years, and for most of that time they lived together. They married in 2008.

Yi came to Japan in 2001, following her father’s death. Unable to get over his death, she wanted to get out of China and initially planned to fly to Singapore. However, the then 21-year-old ended up in Japan as a Japanese student in Tokyo. Two years later, she went to an English school and then enrolled at a computer school. She obtained a scholarship from the Japanese government that covered two years of her studies. Currently, she’s a systems engineer at a telecommunications firm.

Shiro, after jumping around and working at several places to support Yi’s life in Japan, eventually landed a job — also as a systems engineer — at an information technology firm. They now live in Kawasaki.

What was your first date like?

Yi: At the time, I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend at all. I wanted to concentrate on my studies. I didn’t have Japanese friends, so I just wanted a friend with whom I could speak Japanese with. On our first date, Shiro didn’t speak much, and I got really frustrated. After some time of silence, I got angry and just went home.

Shiro: I didn’t speak because I was just really tired. Also, I didn’t know what to talk about to a foreign girl.

Yi: Later, though, I remembered that I had promised him to cook Chinese food for him, so I decided to call him up.

Shiro: She invited me to her apartment.

Yi: After dinner, he asked me if I had a boyfriend, to which I answered “No.” Then, he suddenly kissed me. I was surprised, and said I had no intention of going out with him. I was trying hard to live independently, and not be dependent on men at the time. About a month later, I called him to say that I would not see him anymore, as I wanted to concentrate on my studies.

What made you change your mind after that?

Yi: That night, I thought it through, and felt that it was really the first time that I met such a gentleman. He was very gentle — he sent me emails every day asking me if I was all right. I thought to myself, “What if this is the only time that I would meet such a gentle person in my life? Won’t I regret it if I let this chance go?” So I called him again the following day to tell him that I wanted to see him again. That day, we started dating.

What was the decisive factor in your decision to get married?

Yi: One time, we went camping with my friends. He was as gentle as always to me, and didn’t change his attitude in front of my friends. I hate men who talk big in front of friends. When I returned from the trip, I thought maybe I can be happy with him for a long time. We were living together already, and I was happy just the way it was, but there was this time that I wanted him to meet my mom. We decided to go and see her, and then come back to register for the marriage in Japan.

Shiro: I think her mother was very relieved and happy for us.

Yi: My mother really likes Shiro. So do all my relatives. Shiro’s parents are lovely people, too.

Shiro: My father was interested in China in the first place, and was studying Chinese and Chinese history.

How was life after marriage?

Yi: Originally, I had quite a strong personality and forced my opinion on him — which sometimes led to quarrels. I wanted to change, because I didn’t want to argue with him.

Shiro: I think Chinese women are more assertive compared with Japanese women. Unlike Japanese couples, “Anmoku no ryokai (unspoken agreement)” doesn’t exist between Yi and me. When we argue, we can’t make up with each other unless we talk about what was wrong on both ends. I’ve learned a great deal that one should say how one feels.

Do you feel any cultural differences?

Shiro: I think there is a difference that in China, it’s natural for men to do housework. Chinese men often do the cooking.

Yi: In China, it’s normal for women to work, so it’s natural for both men and women to share the housework.

Shiro: Maybe it was the same in Japan in the past, but in China, people value families a lot. The parents live near their children, and they take care of the grandchildren.

Yi: Also, all the relatives live close by, so we can all gather to have dinner or something.

Any other cultural differences?

Yi: Maybe the biggest difference is food. In the beginning of our relationship, I used to cook a lot of dishes. Shiro would eat it all, and there wasn’t much left for me. So I cooked more. One day he told me, “You cook too many dishes!”

Shiro: In Japan, we are told not to waste food, and to eat everything that is served. In China, if you eat it all, it means it’s not enough.

Yi: In China, eating is definitely a way of communication. Cooking a lot of food, sharing it with a lot of people, and talking a lot while eating. When we go to China and the relatives gather, a lot of dishes are served on a big, round table, and that makes me really happy.

What are your future plans?

Yi: We want to have two children. I also want to study English properly, and be able to speak it fluently.

Shiro: I think it’s OK if we can lead an ordinary life. I don’t aspire to be that successful. I’m happy if we have just about enough income to live on.

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