Long-distance becomes longtime romance


Felix Moesner met Makiko Aikawa in 1991 when he was doing a one-year robotics internship at Toshiba Corp. and a home-stay at her grandmother’s house in Yokohama. Then a university student, she often visited after cooking classes at a restaurant nearby.

They eventually fell in love, but Felix, originally from Appenzell, Switzerland, returned to finish his studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

The young couple continued to correspond by letter, phone and fax in those days before the Internet, and Makiko remembers her monthly telephone bill once reaching ¥80,000. To make the situation easier, Felix returned to Japan in 1993 and embarked on a master’s and then a doctoral program through the University of Tokyo.

The couple tied the knot in April 1994 and lived in Switzerland from 1995 and 2002. They now live in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, with their two daughters, aged 7 and 10.

Felix is an attache at the Swiss Embassy, where he heads the Science and Technology Office. Makiko runs the bag design business Kamon51, where she is both a designer and maker.

What are your favorite dishes of

your partner’s country?

Felix: One of the real qualities in Japan is tofu, which is almost not possible to get anywhere in the world. At the beginning, I did not like tofu, but my wife told me many things about the levels and qualities of tofu. Now I really like it very much. I also like sushi, especially “uni” (sea urchin) and kimchi-type “okonomiyaki” (as-you-like-it pancakes).

Makiko: I like Raclette cheese. Raclette cheese is grilled, melted and scraped onto potatoes. In Switzerland, people use large cheese rounds. But in Japan, I use smaller ones or sliced cheese. I also like Swiss chocolate. It’s really tasty.

What attracted you to your partner?

Felix: Her openness. She is curious for new things. We both like very much cultural events like noh plays, art exhibitions, classical concerts, jazz, but also movies. My wife is extremely cheerful. What I respect about her very much is that she is very reasonable and an excellent listener.

Makiko: He is flexible. He is gentle but strong. His strength is not like iron, but like willow. If you push it, it bends but never breaks.

What do you like or dislike about your partner?

Makiko: He is very meticulous. In a way, I like his meticulousness because he is well organized. He likes to make plans and to do things as planned. I like it, but sometimes I don’t because I don’t care much about details.

Felix: I am really always thankful to her that she gave birth to our two wonderful kids. What I really respect about her very much is she is carefully taking charge of the education of our kids and in parallel she manages her own activities with her bag design business Kamon51.

I can really not criticize her because I see many good points. I like orderliness — not to have a mess at home. So we try to keep a good balance. “Keep a good balance” means when my wife forgets about the orderliness, I clean up.

What do you like about your partner’s country?

Felix: It’s very clear that people in Japan really like technology. Maybe it’s my own interpretation, but since the language in Japan is different from the rest of the world, and the language is connected to thinking, the ideas behind innovations are different. The Tamagotchi (virtual pet), Wii or the recent Frixion (erasable ink) pen are nice examples that explain how innovations like these can be made in Japan, but maybe less likely in a different country.

Makiko: Switzerland is a very beautiful country. Wherever you go, you find it clean and everything is well arranged. Visiting friends’ and colleagues’ homes, those are generally neatly cleaned up. The air in Switzerland is fresh and thick. I like the clean water and rich green environment.

Do you find things that bother you in your partner’s country?

Felix: The masses of people especially in the morning when you take a train at 9 o’clock. On the other hand, it’s really an achievement in how to transport efficiently so many people in such a short time. But personally for me, it’s still difficult to be in a crowded place, maybe because I came from a country with fewer inhabitants where I was not used to have so many people at one spot. This is the reason why every day I usually start to work at 7:30 a.m. in my office.

Makiko: I was raised in Tokyo, so I’m used to crowded places. Especially over weekends, when people in Tokyo enjoy shopping, Swiss tend to spend their weekend time in the mountains or at the lakeside, which makes cities appear empty, because shops are closed on Sundays and holidays.

Is there any concern about raising your children?

Makiko: Some attitudes that can be seen positively in Japan may not always work the same way in foreign countries. You can receive service in Japan without asking for it, for instance, when you visit someone’s house as a guest. In a foreign country, you may need to ask clearly for what you want, otherwise you may get nothing. You should express your opinions clearly in foreign countries. But in Japan, things would not go well if you are too assertive. They have to learn these things themselves.

What is your dream?

Felix: To be always together with my wife and also to bring prospects to our children to grow up in an intact environment. It’s not only the societal environment but also the natural environment.

Makiko: Our children belong to the generation that can understand not only Japanese but also other countries’ standpoints. So I hope their generation will make the world get smaller by better understanding each other and doing business together. We are contributing to it indirectly.

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