When Joyce Lam took Koji Kobayashi to meet her parents in Hong Kong in January 2008, they reminded her that, as the Year of the Golden Pig, 2007 was the most auspicious year to tie the knot in 60 years.
Hearing this, Lam and Kobayashi decided to speed things up. Although Kobayashi had proposed to her already in December 2007 and Lam had accepted, they had yet to file the necessary papers.
Upon returning to Tokyo, the couple quickly determined the luckiest wedding date from the few remaining before the end of the Chinese calendar year. They dropped by the local ward office and signed their papers on Feb. 6, 2008 — New Year’s Eve.
“We were just in time,” Lam recalled with a laugh.
The lucky bride is now pregnant and expecting her first baby in July. The two currently reside in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture.
What brought you to Japan?
Joyce: I was an avid fan of Japanese television dramas and fashion when I was growing up, and always wanted to be able to speak the language.
So I studied Japanese for three years while in college, but felt it wasn’t enough, and finally decided to go to Japan in 2002.
I enrolled in a one-year Japanese course while living in a dormitory in Nerima Ward, but I soon found a job. I currently work for a bag maker.
Koji: And I’ve been working on and off as a car mechanic for about 10 years.
How did you two meet?
Joyce: I was introduced to him by my colleague when she invited me to go snowboarding in Hokkaido in March 2007. She was a high school classmate of Koji, who was also on the trip.
Koji: And afterward, we planned another outing in April — this time riding on motorbikes going up to Nasu (Tochigi Prefecture). Joyce was riding on the back of my bike.
Joyce: Yes, and we spent the night in Indian tepees that we could rent at a campsite. I remember we stayed up quite late trying to make strawberry jam.
Koji: We picked some strawberries during the day, and wanted to see if we could make something out of it. It was quite a time-consuming process, I must say.
Joyce: We exchanged contacts after that trip, and then started meeting each other quite frequently.
Koji: And we became a couple in June.
How was your wedding?
Joyce: My parents and relatives came over from Hong Kong and we had a restaurant wedding. It was on April 12, 2008.
Koji: Joyce wore a kimono during the ceremony.
Joyce: If we had had our wedding in Hong Kong, I would be wearing an embroidered red silk jacket and skirt. It’s Hong Kong’s traditional wedding dress.
I would have loved to try it on.
Koji: I had an absolutely great time at the wedding. It’s not every day that you gather the attention and blessings of so many people. I wanted that day to never end.
Were your parents against your marrying a foreigner?
Joyce: Not at all. My parents didn’t mind a bit. Hong Kong is a very international city, and people are used to foreigners.
Koji: My parents like Joyce very much. I think they are excited to be able to connect with someone from a different culture.
What language do you use to speak to each other?
Koji: Japanese, since that’s the only language I can speak. But Joyce knows four languages — English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese. I’m trying to learn some Cantonese so I can at least talk to Joyce’s parents on the phone.
Joyce: My Japanese is OK, but I want to be good enough to be called a native speaker.
Koji: I think her Japanese is excellent, but Joyce is very ambitious.
Do you notice any cultural differences?
Koji: It’s a minor thing, but I noticed that when Joyce peels apples, she holds the knife blade facing away from her, whereas in Japan, most peel with the blade facing inward, toward oneself. I’m not sure if this is a cultural thing, but I found it interesting.
Joyce: Well, I can only say that’s how I was taught to peel apples. I’m not sure how it’s done in other countries.
On my side, I wasn’t used to taking hot baths, so it was something I had to adjust to living in Japan. I still can’t stay in the tub too long. In Hong Kong, we mostly only take showers.
What’s your visa status?
Joyce: I’m still on my working visa. I know I should apply for a spouse visa, but the process is so complicated I’ve been putting it off. You have to give detailed accounts of where you met, how you got married and so on.
Regarding the nationality of our soon-to-be-born child, I need to do some research, but if possible I’d like to give the child both of our nationalities or at least permanent residency status in one of the countries. I’m currently classified as a British National (Overseas).
What do you like or dislike about each other?
Joyce: Koji is very handy in the house. He builds shelves and even assembled a dishwasher once. He’s also very kind and patient with me, which I am grateful for. However, he can be a bit lazy sometimes.
Koji: Joyce is fun to be with, and very sensitive and attentive to what’s going on around her.
She can be a bit hot-tempered at times, though.
What are your hobbies?
Koji: I like the outdoors, so I enjoy going fishing or snowboarding. But I also like staying in the house playing video games.
Joyce: We’ve got into minor fights because of that. He gets carried away with these games, glued to the screen and ignoring me completely.
What are your plans for the future?
Joyce: I think we’ll stay in Japan for the time being.
Koji: I wouldn’t mind giving living in Hong Kong a shot, but that’ll depend on my job situation and language ability.
Joyce: I personally prefer living in Japan. Hong Kong is so crowded, even compared with Tokyo. People keep bumping into you. But wherever we are, I’d like to raise our child to be trilingual, in English, Cantonese and Japanese. We’ll have to figure out the best way to do this.
Reader participation is invited for this series, which appears every other Saturday. If you wish to be featured, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.