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Saturday, April 5, 2008


Home is where the family is for Japanese-German couple

Staff writer

Annette and Ken Uematsu met in 1981 while attending a party for people in Japan learning German. They started dating, moved in together and decided to marry.

News photo
Annette and Ken Uematsu smile for the camera at their home in Matsudo on Feb. 24. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

Ken, however, encountered fierce opposition from his parents, who didn't want him to have a foreign wife. Hoping to win them over, Annette started sending his parents greeting cards written in Japanese.

Annette's mother was also against them getting hitched, because she did not like her daughter living so far from Germany.

But the couple's tenacity paid off, and their parents approved when they married in 1984. They now have three daughters, aged 22, 20 and 18, and the couple look forward to their 25th wedding anniversary next year.

What is your hometown and occupation?

Annette: I am from the German city of Helmstedt. I am a full-time housewife studying Japanese.

Ken: I am from Kagawa Prefecture. I currently work as a finance general manager at the Japanese arm of the Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto.

What brought you to Japan?

Annette: It was an accident. An acquaintance asked me to teach German shorthand skills here. I thought, "Yeah, why not? I can try." I arrived on April 5, 1980.

Which language does your family usually speak?

Annette: Everyone speaks Japanese and I ask questions in German.

Ken: Then everyone answers her back in Japanese.

How did you raise your children?

Ken: Because of my job, the two of us and our eldest daughter moved to Duesseldorf, Germany, in 1986. The oldest daughter went to a German kindergarten from 1989 to 1991, just before we returned to Japan.

We had all three daughters go to public schools in Japan. Our policy was to teach our children the language of the country of residence, to educate them naturally just like the way other local children were raised.

At the same time, we did not make them attend cram schools. We told them to just play hard and study hard.

Have you encountered any difficulty when raising your children?

Ken: We did not have any trouble when raising our children. Even though it was tough sometimes, we have never felt it painful and are grateful that we have been able to have a happy life each day.

What do you like and dislike about the country of your partner?

Ken: Their beer tastes good. And you can clearly state your own opinion to anyone. I also like that in the postwar era, Germans did their best to reconstruct old, destroyed buildings.

On the other hand, Germans won't do anything unless it is written in manuals to do so.

Annette: A lot of attention is paid to details here. I was really impressed with toilet paper folded so neatly.

What I dislike is the noise. There is lots from cars, kerosene fuel trucks and blaring music in town.

Or pachinko. I do not like people standing in line, doing nothing. They should spend their time on something more meaningful, like working at nursing homes for the aged or hospitals that need more people.

I do not like that when something happens to a child, people never hold the parents responsible. They always blame the child's school instead.

How about your own country?

Ken: I like that at schools, children themselves clean their classrooms, where they study.

What concerns me is the school education here. Every child wants to know the "right answer" first. No matter how logically you answer something, you will still earn a zero if your answer is "wrong."

Annette: One thing I like about Germany is the social welfare state. But Germans always complain about something and never get enough. They are self-centered.

Do you feel any cultural differences between the two of you?

Ken: We have not experienced much cultural difference.

Annette: My home is where my family is. I am specially blessed.

What do you like or dislike about your partner?

Annette: My husband is kind and thinks more about others than himself. He is very funny. We both like jokes.

I don't like it when he comes home and drops all of his stuff around (laughs).

Ken: I like how she clearly expresses herself, thinks and executes all of her tasks herself.

My dislikes about her are too many (laughs). No, I don't have many complaints.

What are some of the good things about having a partner from a different country?

Ken: We can boldly have secret talks in German on the Japanese trains (laughs).

We can learn the good points about each other's country and enjoy the annual events of both.

Annette: I have learned a lot about Japan and Asia, which I would not have done without him. I still have many questions. He is a very reliable answering machine.

What are some of the bad things?

Annette: The language is generally still difficult for me. I cannot read his diary, so I do not know about his secrets.

What is your dream for the future?

Ken: My dream is to attend all of our grandchildren's and great-grandchildren's entrance and graduation ceremonies and sport festivals of their elementary, junior high and high schools, and universities. I have been attending almost all of our daughters' ceremonies. I want to continue to attend family anniversary events.

Annette: Mine is to grow older together with relatively stable health. Everybody has some problems, but I hope we can cope with them and live happily.

Reader participation is invited for this series, which appears every other Saturday. If you wish to be featured, please e-mail hodobu@japantimes.co.jp

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