Language partners turn life partners


Information-technology engineer Rodion Moiseev was alone when he traveled from Moscow to England at the age of 14 to attend high school, and he believes those early experiences in a new land made him open to foreign cultures. It may well be one of the reasons for his interest in Japanese culture, particularly the cuisine.

Moiseev met Shino Narumi, a young Japanese woman studying Russian, in 2003 when the two were looking for language-exchange partners on the Internet: It was a match made in cyberspace. The two plan to get married in a traditional Shinto-style ceremony in April at Kanda Myojin Shrine in Tokyo. They are both 24.

Narumi, a native of Tokyo who today works as a professional Russian interpreter, said she has dreamed of wearing a pure-white wedding kimono. And Moiseev wants to show his parents, who will come all the way from Moscow, a Japanese-style ceremony.

They plan to live in Japan, have children and teach them Russian and Japanese.

What brought you to Tokyo, Rodion?

During my time in high school in England, I made Japanese friends. I got interested in Japanese culture and decided to learn Japanese. After receiving my bachelor’s degree at Imperial College London, I applied to the Tokyo Institute of Technology to live close to Narumi, and with great luck, got in!

Shino, what prompted you to learn Russian?

I wanted to enter a university foreign-studies program and to study a language that you can learn only there. Russian is difficult to learn, much more difficult than English, but I like it very much. Russian words sound beautiful.

Which languages do the two of you usually speak together?

Rodion: We try to mostly speak in Russian, but it usually turns out to be more a mixture of both Russian and Japanese.

Shino: When I get tired, I tend to speak Japanese. I feel bad at times like that because I’m taking the easy way out.

What are your favorite foods?

Rodion: I’m a big fan of both Russian and Japanese cuisine. My favorites are “pelmeni” — Russian meat dumplings — and sashimi.

Shino: Japanese cuisine in general. Of Russian foods, my favorite is borscht.

What likes and dislikes do you have for each other’s country?

Rodion: My first impression of Japan was that it is very “ergonomic.” In most aspects, life in Japan is very easy. Services are very targeted, fast and flawless. This makes it really stand out from most European countries, I believe.

However, when I first came to Japan, I found it difficult to make close friends. It seemed that people here prefer to keep a distance. In Russia and England, however, I never had this problem. But with time I have come to understand that Japanese people just need a different approach. So I think I am pretty comfortable with most aspects of Japanese life.

Shino: I like that Russian people do everything they can to support those people close to them. Friends can lean on each other without any hesitation. I dislike, though, that the country does not give much consideration to the weak.

What about your own countries?

Rodion: I like Russian people and enjoy being around them. The society overall is, I feel, quite relaxed. Even when there’s pressure at work, away from work we can easily switch into play mode. I dislike that the government lacks consideration for people.

Shino: I like that Japan has maintained old traditions while developing new, unique cultural characteristics. I dislike that people now have less personal contact with others in society.

Do you feel any cultural differences between the two of you?

Rodion: The differences were noticeable at the beginning. Sometimes I would say something quite normal from my point of view, but Shino would think of it as really harsh.

This has caused some difficulties in the past, but now these differences have been bridged, and I almost feel that there aren’t any.

Shino: I feel a gap mainly at meals and in the relationship with family members. Japanese meals, which I feel comfortable eating, are foreign to Rodion, although he never complains about it.

He frequently calls his family in Russia. I’m close to my mom and have long chats with her over the phone. But I won’t talk that much with my brother or father, which he feels is a bit odd.

What do you like and dislike about your partner?

Rodion: Shino has very firm goals, and she’s very enthusiastic about them. My dislike: She’s “ganko” (stubborn)!

Shino: I respect his attitude toward others. I dislike nothing in particular about him.

What is the greatest pleasure you get from being with your partner?

Rodion: We both share a passion for languages, so we always have something to talk about. In fact, we have quite a lot in common, like taste in music, films and food.

Shino: I can talk with him about various themes, ranging from jokes to serious topics. I can talk with him without reserve. Others may think we are arguing, but each of us can express our opinion freely and can clearly say no to the other if we believe what the other says is wrong.

What are some good things about having a partner from a different country?

Rodion: The chance to broaden my horizons. I was able to find out a lot about life in Japan through getting to know Shino’s friends and family.

Shino: You can find out new aspects of your country, including both good and bad.

What is your dream for the future?

Rodion: To build a good family.

Shino: To maintain a relationship in which we can respect each other, no matter how many years may go by.

Reader participation is invited for this series, which appears every other Saturday. Please e-mail hodobu@japantimes.co.jp if you wish to be featured.