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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

MIXED MATCHES

Psychology, counseling interests unite couple


Staff writer

Japanese-American John Shiomi, 40, and his wife, Misako, 32, met in the city of Fukuoka in January last year. Misako had posted a message about wanting a friend in the online version of Fukuoka Now, a free publication for foreigners in the area.

News photo
Common goals: John and Misako Shiomi pose at a cafe near JR Akihabara Station in Chiyoda Ward during their recent visit to Tokyo. MAMI MARUKO

After corresponding by email, they met and began dating soon after. The couple lived together for four months and were married in November.

John, born and raised in Los Angeles, is a fourth-generation Japanese-American whose great-grandparents emigrated to the United States about a century ago.

John began his life in Japan in 1997 with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, working for three years as an assistant language teacher at junior high schools in Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture.

In 2000, he opened his own English school in Yame to teach both children and adults. In private conversation lessons with adult students, he often speaks about the problems the students face — including those related to marriage, kids or the workplace, as well as alcohol, smoking or gambling addictions. These discussions piqued John's interest because he majored in psychology in university. It also prompted him to consider a new goal: to become a psychologist or counselor.

Misako, a Fukuoka native, suffered for 10 years from an eating disorder. After going to the U.S. five years ago to seek help, she is now working as a masseuse, helping people deal with stress.

The couple, who live in Yame, plan to move to the U.S. next month. John aims to enter a graduate program in California to study psychology, while Misako will study eating disorders through seminars and workshops.

What were your first impressions of each other?

John: I enjoyed talking to her. We had the same interests, so the conversation was very nice. I didn't have any romantic feelings for her at the time — it was just like friends — but I just felt very comfortable with her.

Misako: At the beginning, I also thought of him as just a friend. On our second date, John talked to me about his previous relationship with his ex-fiancee, saying that he was very loyal to her. I thought he was a sincere person.

John: I felt through email exchanges that she was a very responsible, good person.

What made you begin dating and decide to get married?

Misako: I wasn't looking for a boyfriend at all, as I had just split up with my ex-boyfriend. Via email, I told him that I had just split up with my boyfriend. He was very considerate about it, and I felt comfortable writing to him about my eating disorder. He was the very first person I could talk to about the illness.

John: We were very open and honest about everything from the start. Actually, about eight months before I met her, I had broken up with my ex-girlfriend. It was a really difficult breakup, and I was determined to find a girlfriend to actually get married. I placed some ads myself to Fukuoka Now, I went to Fukuoka many times a week to parties and social activities. For eight months, I was desperate to find a girlfriend, but later changed my thinking — not just to find a girlfriend but to make friends, to enjoy this process, and use this process as kind of a personal growth. So it was a smooth, natural transition from dating to getting married. I felt there was something there — kind of like a connection. We're both interested in psychology, personal development, and spirituality.

In what language do you talk to each other?

John: At the beginning, it was almost all English.

Misako: Even now, I think we speak more English than Japanese. Now I'm doing it intentionally, as we're moving to the U.S., and I need to be able to speak good English.

Do you feel any cultural differences?

John: I've been in Japan 15 years, so I'm really accustomed to Japanese culture, and there are no real big surprises for me. But there was one thing that surprised me. When we went to Mister Donut, Misako ordered coffee and I just got water. She knew that I don't drink coffee, but she offered me her coffee anyway. She did that a few times in the past, too, so I thought that was strange. It was maybe a Japanese thing.

Misako: I had a sense of guilt that I was the only one drinking coffee, so I kept on asking him, "Do you want some?" One time, I was surprised by him, too. He doesn't seem to mind what others think of him and doesn't feel guilty like the Japanese.

John: For example, we took a two-week road trip from Fukuoka to Tokyo, and along the way we stopped by at several destinations to stay with Misako's friends and their family. Misako's mother said, "Don't do that. You can't do that." The impression I had was that (the mother seems to think) it's kind of rude to ask your friends that you want to stay with them. But my thinking was, "Misako's friends will be happy to see us and (for us to) spend time with them."

How and when did you decide to move to the United States? And what would you like to do in the future?

Misako: Two months after we started dating, we planned and wrote out what we will do the next year of our lives together.

John: At that time, we were just planning to travel together in the U.S., but then we changed it to, 'Let's quit our jobs and move to America.' We liked our jobs, but weren't 100 percent satisfied. We now have a common goal. Through our work, we realized that there's a lot of people in Japan who need help in different parts of their lives, and we want to help them. My guess is that all the common root causes of these life problems come down to the inability to simply love yourself unconditionally as you are. We want to come back to Japan a few years later with a goal of helping others.

Misako: When I get lost in life, John becomes like my counselor. He helps me realize that my worth is not in what I possess or how successful I am with my job, or how I look. He says I have value just the way I am.

John: This kind of thinking is the most important thing in my life. I can talk about that with her, and I'm so happy.

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