Although Tomoko and Riki Melwani both hold Japanese passports, by background they are multinational.
Having spent six years from age 10 in the United States and Canada, Tomoko, 39, speaks fluent English and communicates with her two daughters — 5-year-old Kiran and 3-year-old Sarina — in English.
Riki, 38, was born to a Japanese mother and an Indian father and grew up in India, Britain and Japan.
A music producer who started his own business, Riki speaks fluent Japanese and English.
The multinational experience the two had may be one of the reasons Tomoko and Riki, who met while working for the same record company, were attracted to each other. But Riki simply said because it was a “good match.”
“He stood out,” said Tomoko, who now helps out Riki’s company as a translator. “People are (usually) afraid to say what they are feeling, but he was not afraid to state his opinions.”
Before marrying in 1996, they visited each other every other weekend despite living far apart, in Tokyo and Kobe.
Were you born in Japan?
Riki: I was born in Osaka, moved to London when I was 1. I was there until 1983. Between ’83 to ’87, I was in Kobe in an international school. From ’87-’91 I was in New York for college.
Tomoko: My father used to move around. I moved to the U.S. when I was 10. We moved around America and Canada and came back to Japan when I was 16. I was sent back for high school in Tokyo.
When we got married, we moved to Los Angeles. I was working for a record company and they had a branch office there in L.A. I got transferred to L.A. So my parents were happy that I had Riki when we moved to L.A.
So the parents weren’t an issue. What was the style of your wedding?
Tomoko: We did three.
Riki: We had a small wedding at a Catholic church in Kobe with our immediate family, which is only our parents and maybe our first cousins.
Tomoko: And there was another party in Tokyo because I only invited my close friends.
Riki: And then after that we had to have a party for my Indian friends and my dad’s Indian friends. That was about 200 people. That was the biggest party, the official party.
Tomoko: Because we had to be introduced to the Indian society, in a way.
Riki: To say that we are married now.
Tomoko: Your dad had to arrange everything. We wanted to make sure it’s the Indian way. I had no idea. Riki was half sure. So the dad arranged the invitation, the food, what we’re supposed to do, the sari we are supposed to wear. We just showed up there, did everything we were told. When I was told to “Smile now,” I smiled.
So you two moved to L.A. after the wedding?
Riki: Yes. Usually, in Japan, you have “kotobuki taisha” (women quitting their job after marriage). So I was the one who did that. I quit for her. I said, “If you’re going to L.A., let’s get married and go to L.A. and start a new life.”
Tomoko: What I didn’t like about Japanese society was that the company was not supportive of men quitting for marriage.
“He’s not sick. Why do we have to support him?” And I said, “Listen, there are a lot of men who take their wives overseas. What’s the difference here?” There was a huge battle with the company.
Riki: In Japan, if the husband gets transferred, you can take your wife and family. But if you look in the book, it doesn’t say “husband and family,” right? His wife and family. It’s sexist. So we had this huge fuss.
I actually said to the company you have to pay for me to get transferred just like you would pay for her if I get transferred.
Because they would never imagine a guy (quitting for his wife’s sake), it’s impossible to think that way. It’s always the girl follows the guy. The guy never follows. It’s interesting. So that was big.
Tomoko: The word they kept using was “unprecedented.” Very Japanese.
Do you two talk about child-rearing? Which language you want them to speak in?
Tomoko: The older one, Kiran, goes to an American school. The little one, she’s only 3. We feel that Kiran will learn Japanese because we are in Japan. She speaks Japanese with my parents and she has friends in the neighborhood.
We are hoping to go back again (to the U.S.), hoping there is a job opportunity. We want the transition to be very smooth. That’s why we want her to be able to speak English.
Right now, they understand who speaks Japanese and who speaks English. They never talk English to my parents. She speaks English to his father. Even if I ask them in Japanese, they speak back to me in English. So right now, her first language is English.
Do you want them to experience the world, not only Japan?
Tomoko: Because basically in Japan, you only see Japanese or Asian people. Once you step out, you see so many different colors of hair, skin.
How do you bring in Japanese and Indian culture?
Tomoko: I try to bring in Japanese culture through Japanese events like Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival) and Japanese food. I’m an eating person.
Riki: On the TV hard disk, we have our wedding, the Indian party. Kiran was fascinated with it. She was going through it and she found it. She wanted to watch it again and again. And she was asking about the red dot here on the forehead and she wanted to do it.
Tomoko: Of course we told that to his dad and he was so happy. Literally, the next day, he sent all this Indian clothes and she loved it.
Riki: Even though they are part-Indian and part-Japanese, it works for them because somewhere in their complexion, they already know and they can’t change that. Honestly, I haven’t gotten to India since 1983 and I really want to go. Then they’ll start to relate. They’ll understand that it’s not a dress-up thing. It’s actually what people wear or curry isn’t something they eat once a week or once a month. Everyone eats it every day. Just like you eat rice.
Tomoko: In a few years, I hope she understands that a part of her, there is Indian blood in it.
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