Canadian Vanessa Hayes knew even before her first date with Michio Kiyomiya that she would end up marrying him, although it wasn’t quite love at first sight.
When Vanessa first met Michio in 2003, she was his English teacher at the metal manufacturing plant in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, where he worked. She was impressed by how eagerly he tackled his homework.
Although Michio moved to Tokyo six months later, he kept in touch with Vanessa and, on a visit back to Aizuwakamatsu, went out with her and a colleague. The lightning hit Vanessa after they parted at the end of the evening.
“I knew at that moment that if I went on a date with him, I would be marrying him,” she said.
A few months later, they went on their first date. Michio proposed, and Vanessa accepted.
Michio, 46, and Vanessa, 34, have now been married for four years, and live with Michio’s parents in Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture. Vanessa now works in PR and tourism marketing, and on the day of the interview with The Japan Times, they had been to the Immigration office to register her application for a permanent residency visa.
What brought you to Japan?
Vanessa: When I studied in China for a year for my master’s degree in Asian studies, the rest of my class were all Japanese salarymen, so I learned about Japanese culture.
After completing my course at age 28, I came to Japan to teach English. I told the company I wanted to avoid big cities, so they sent me to Aizuwakamatsu, where I taught at Michio’s factory three days a week.
What was your relationship like as teacher and student?
Vanessa: The day Michio first came to my class, he was late! We were discussing the kanji of the students’ family names, and he told me that his meant “clean shrine.” I remember thinking that was a great name.
Michio: At first I was reluctant about the English classes, but when I saw Vanessa sensei (teacher), I thought she was beautiful. I prepared scripts for the weekly conversations about what we did over the weekend. I guess I wanted to show her I was studying hard!
Vanessa: Michio was transferred to Tokyo after a few months, but he returned to Aizuwakamatsu on a business trip. He asked me out, but I still thought of him as a student, so I also invited a coworker. But it was just Michio and me later in the evening, and when we were walking from the ramen shop, he said — what did you say?
Michio: I said, “Someone with such cold hands must have a warm heart.”
Vanessa: It was a full moon, and although there was no kiss, I knew in that moment that I couldn’t just casually date this man. Later we exchanged e-mails, and he wrote “I love you.” I knew then that this was it.
What did you do on your first date?
Vanessa: We met up in Kashiwa City (in Chiba Prefecture), and had a weekend date. He had bought my train ticket and drawn up an itinerary for the whole weekend.
Michio: We went to Mount Tsukuba and the Kikkoman (a soy sauce brand) factory. And when we were having coffee on the Sunday, I proposed.
Vanessa: And I went, “OK!”
What were you attracted to in each other?
Vanessa: In Aizuwakamatsu everyone is traditional; you get married when you’re 20 and the women are housewives. But Michio accepted that I was more ambitious. He also forgets that I’m a foreigner. He sent me to Japanese school, too, so I could improve my Japanese.
Michio: She was lively and energetic. Every day is fun with her; she’s completely different from Japanese women.
Were your parents back in Canada surprised when they heard the news?
Vanessa: I hid my engagement from them for three months because it had been so sudden. But my parents really support me living here because Victoria in Canada, where I’m from, is a small city, and there aren’t many job opportunities. We visit my family every year for New Year’s, and have a big party at my house to celebrate Christmas, New Year and Michio’s birthday all at the same time.
How is it living with Michio’s parents?
Vanessa: We moved in because of financial reasons, but I also saw it as a chance to get to know his family. Later we thought about moving out, but didn’t think the cost was worth it. The house is big, and has a park across the street where I taught my father-in-law how to play Frisbee. We even have an allotment where my mother-in-law grows vegetables, and I sometime take them to work. My colleagues call me the Kiyomiya Yaoya (greengrocer)!
Michio: When Vanessa tells my parents how much her colleagues enjoyed the vegetables, they’re really pleased.
Vanessa: They’ve just accepted the way I am, and I’ve accepted the way they are. Michio and I hold hands and kiss in front of them, and they’re used to it. Saturday night is usually date night, but on Sundays I cook something for the whole family.
What do you not like about each other?
Michio: It would be good if she could get up earlier in the mornings. Even today, she couldn’t get up in time to go to the Immigration office together, so I had to go ahead and wait!
Vanessa: But he doesn’t get angry. I’m always the emotional one, and he keeps me calm.
I sometimes don’t like him being so precise. When I’m going to a new place, he prints out a map and directions for me. Sometimes I think, I’m not a child. If I were a Japanese wife would he do that?
Michio: But when I don’t do it you get cross!
What language do you converse in?
Vanessa: I usually speak Japanese to him, and he makes an effort to speak English. But when I’m angry, I talk in English.
Michio: When she’s angry, I say “taihen dane” (“that’s hard”), but that’s not enough for her. It’s easy to just nod along in Japanese, but you can’t get away with that in English, so I’m more expressive when I respond in English.
Vanessa: I don’t like “shoganai” (“that can’t be helped”) either. I say, no, we have to solve the problem.
Do you ever want to go back to Canada?
Vanessa: I can’t imagine being 60 and still living in Japan. When Michio retires, I’d like to move to Canada and look after my parents.
Michio: I like the idea of living somewhere like Victoria where we can see the ocean.
Do you think about having children?
Vanessa: If we did, it would be difficult to make them truly bilingual. I would want to keep working, so I wouldn’t be around to teach them English. I wouldn’t want to send them to public school here because kids don’t like to speak good English because they’d stick out. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to them to go to international school because they’d be in a “gaijin” (foreigner) bubble. Maybe we could send them to Canada for the summer.
Michio: If we did have children, it might be better to educate them abroad. Japanese kids tend to just play around and don’t study hard.
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