Aiko Tanaka, 27, met Olegs Orlovs, 27, for the first time when she visited his home country, Latvia, as a tourist with her family in 2002. Olegs was her tour guide.
He became friends with her mother and told her he would be coming to Japan as an international student at Hitotsubashi University to study Japanese as well as economics and finance. After meeting up again with the Tanaka family in Japan, he grew close to Aiko.
After nearly six years of dating, including 2 1/2 years in a long-distance relationship, they registered their marriage on March 25 last year, the birthday of both of their mothers.
Aiko works as an elementary school teacher and Olegs is a diplomat in the Latvian Embassy in Tokyo. They live in Shibuya Ward.
Your Japanese is perfect. Where did you study the language?
Olegs: I went to Japanese Language and Culture School in my home city, Riga, the capital of Latvia. It was established in 1993. My mother heard about it on the radio and took me there to check it out. There were night classes to study Japanese, but my school was the only school that offered Japanese lessons during the daytime.
I decided to study Japanese because I became interested in Japanese culture and language. I also thought it’d be useful in the future because studying Japanese was still rare at that time, and I entered the school when I was in the sixth grade of elementary school. There were Japanese teachers and I learned practical Japanese from them.
I also went to a high school in Yamanashi Prefecture for three months in 1999. I first got to know about the real Japan there.
Why did you become a diplomat?
I wanted to become a diplomat since I was a student because it’s an interesting job where I can meet new people with international backgrounds and contribute to two countries.
What was your first impression of your partner?
Aiko: I thought he was such a young tour guide. He was a nice person.
Olegs: The majority of tour guides in Latvia are experienced, professional ones because Japanese tourists can be demanding at times. Maybe that’s why she was surprised. I didn’t actually find her particularly special, as she was just wearing big sneakers and had her hair dyed. I also didn’t know about her favorite Japanese musicians that she was talking about.
What happened after studying at Hitotsubashi University?
Olegs: I went back to Latvia, but I took a year’s leave and worked in a bank in Latvia that had a branch in Tokyo. I went back and forth between Latvia and Japan for about a year. Then I went back to university, graduated and became a diplomat. We were away for about 2 1/2 years but Aiko came to visit me. I visited her once every six months.
Wasn’t a long-distance relationship difficult?
Olegs: Yes, it was. I was young. It’s also hard to have good communication when you are apart. We used to argue more often as well.
Aiko: I didn’t find it that difficult because it was fine for me to spend time alone. I was also busy taking exams to become a teacher. I also trusted him because he never lies and he is sincere.
What are the advantages of having a foreign partner?
Aiko: He gives me flowers, and he tells me his opinions. It’s also easy for me to tell him what I think. That way, we may have more conflicts, but it’s better than nagging at each other.
Olegs: It’s better to put our different opinions on the table. The important thing is to find a middle way and understand each other.
Aiko: I think Japanese don’t really talk about how they feel.
Olegs: I don’t feel stressed at home because we can say anything to each other. But the key to happiness is that each of us sometimes compromises for the other. Having that balance is important.
Do you notice any cultural differences?
Aiko: Not much. He is fluent in Japanese, knows Japanese culture and he can eat any Japanese food.
Olegs: Latvians are more flexible than Japanese. For example, in Japan, we can’t order something off the fixed menu at a restaurant most of the time.
What kind of food do you eat at home?
Aiko: We basically eat what is common in average Japanese households, such as curry and ramen, but I also try to cook different foods.
Olegs: I also eat black rye bread that Latvian friends bring from Latvia when they visit Japan. I eat it with sausages, cheese, ham, sour cream, or cottage cheese.
What is Latvian cuisine like?
Aiko: It tastes quite strong.
Olegs: It’s a bit oily. I easily become full when I’m back home. There isn’t much original Latvian food. It’s kind of influenced by German food.
Aiko: I like chanterelle mushrooms. I like it in a cream soup.
It was shocking to me when I saw Latvians pour milk on rice as dessert.
Olegs: The rice we use in Latvia is different from Japanese rice. It is long, thin Thai rice.
What language do you use at home now?
What language are you going to use if you have children?
Olegs: We want our child to learn English at an international school. At home, we will speak Japanese and Latvian.
Aiko: I hope my child will learn English outside the home, and we would like to educate our child at an international school.
Olegs: It’s important our child will be able to speak Latvian and Japanese to communicate with our family members as well as to know the mother languages of both parents.
Your husband may be transferred to Latvia. Are you worried?
Aiko: I do have some worries, but we will work things out somehow. I know he will be transferred soon (somewhere.) (If he is transferred to Latvia), some of his friends there speak English, and he said that we would be able to return to Japan once every six months.
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