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Saturday, July 26, 2008


From Utah to Gunma to Tokyo, then later to Florida?

Staff writer

Matthew Wilson, 37, has had a busy life. The native of Utah has lived in Japan five separate times since 1989 and married Noriko Yamanaka when he was only 20.

News photo
Pose in the park: Matthew and Noriko Wilson visit Arisugawa Park in Minato Ward, Tokyo, with their four children in December. MATTHEW WILSON PHOTO

He went back and forth between Gunma Prefecture, where Noriko is from, and Salt Lake City when he was a student at the University of Utah. After graduating from law school at Temple University in Philadelphia, his job as an international lawyer took the couple to Saipan, Florida and Tokyo.

In the meantime, Noriko gave birth to a girl and three boys, all of whom now go to the same international school in Tokyo, where they moved in July 2003 and still live.

Both Matthew, now a senior associate dean and general counsel at Temple University Japan, and Noriko, 43, a housewife, are fully bilingual. Matthew affectionately refers to her profession as a "domestic engineer" because she wears many different technical hats, from TV and appliance repairman to nurse, tutor, driver, chef and counselor.

When did you first come to Japan?

Matthew: After undergoing a two-month intensive Japanese-language training program as an 18-year-old, I was sent to a remote village in Hokkaido in the late 1980s as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

How did you meet your wife?

Matthew: We met in July 1990 at the University of Utah. She and I were both students. I was kind of dating Noriko's Japanese friend, who lived in the same building as her. On the second date, I found a note in Japanese on the door of my date's room and asked Noriko what it meant. She and I talked eight hours then. We were really connected.

Noriko: The note said "I went out, and will be back soon." But she was out a long time, and I appreciate her for that (laughs).

We got engaged a month later and married in five months, on Dec. 25, 1990, in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture. We also had a wedding ceremony in Salt Lake City in September 1991.

What language do you speak at home?

Matthew: To each other, 75 percent in English, 25 percent in Japanese.

Noriko: When we get emotional, we speak English.

Matthew: We speak both languages to our children. However, it seems that I speak more Japanese, and Noriko speaks more English. Because the children speak English at school, I try to speak Japanese to them at home as much as possible. I often urge Noriko to speak more in Japanese in our home.

Are you happy with your children's Japanese skill?

Noriko: Their level is different. I am happy with my 15-year-old daughter's level. But the three sons, 11, 8 and 7, should try harder. Especially, the eldest son sometimes finds it difficult to express what he wants to say in Japanese.

What was the funniest thing you experienced with your partner?

Noriko: Marrying Matthew was the funniest thing. I could never imagine dating a guy with blond hair and blue eyes. At first I thought he was a really nice guy, but still, making him my boyfriend was beyond comprehension. That idea was reversed in a really short time.

Matthew: The funniest thing happened at the wedding reception in Gunma. Noriko's mother was embarrassed about my age and told her relatives that I was 25. But one of Noriko's friends said during a speech, "They have a six-year age difference, but looking at them, I was sure they would be happy together." Later at the reception, Noriko's mother was apologizing to her relatives. It was really funny (laughs).

Noriko: I still remember my mother's face when my friend disclosed the secret. She turned pale (laughs).

Matthew: I did not understand why my age was kept secret, but it was good that it was revealed sooner.

How supportive were your parents when you got married?

Matthew: Both of our parents were very accepting of our marriage, although it did take a little adjustment on both sides of the family.

My parents were a bit skeptical at first until they had an opportunity to get to know Noriko. With her charming personality, she was able to successfully sell the idea of an international marriage.

Noriko: My mother seemed accepting of the idea from the start. When Matthew asked my father for my hand in marriage, he immediately consented and asked Matthew to take care of me.

The next day, however, we found out that my father had gone to the hospital to be treated for high blood pressure caused by the thought of our marriage. He was fine until the day after our wedding, when the same thing happened again. He had to be treated for high blood pressure.

Matthew: Notwithstanding though, Noriko's father has always been a great supporter of me and our marriage.

What are your likes and dislikes about your partner?

Noriko: There is nothing I dislike about Matthew. What I like about him is that he is hardworking and does what he says he will do. For example, he thought he wanted to be a lawyer and he has become one. He said let's get married and he really married me (laughs).

Matthew: I also don't have anything I dislike about Noriko.

She has made my life enjoyable and provided me with the support to succeed. I like her for being nice to everybody, sacrificing herself for our family, and never complaining.

What is interesting about having a partner from a different cultural background?

Matthew: There are tons of cultural differences and we need to get over them to stay married a long time. Teaching culture to each other is really interesting. I learned a lot of Japanese culture from Noriko.

Noriko: I totally agree with Matthew. Being different makes our lives interesting.

What are your dreams for the future?

Matthew: All I want is for everybody in my family to be happy.

Noriko: I look forward to spending our retirement in Florida under the warm sky and by the beautiful beaches (laughs). Yet I definitely agree with Matthew. Our family's happiness is what I want most.

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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