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Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008

MIXED MATCHES

Cultural differences a common bond for Japanese-Korean pair


Staff writer

Takashi Yasuda and Kim Hye Gyong met three years ago while both were living in an international guesthouse in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo.

News photo
Best of both worlds: Takashi Yasuda and Kim Hye Gyong pose with their son, Shoei, at a cafe in Nishi Kasai, Tokyo, in October. ALEX MARTIN PHOTO

Yasuda was interested in foreign cultures — a trip after college across the United States had taught him the importance of intercultural communication — while Kim was working for a South Korean trading company after graduating from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

Engaging in daily conversations in the guesthouse lounge, the two soon found themselves in love, and one year after their first encounter, decided to get married.

The two now live in the Kasai Rinkai Koen district in Tokyo with their 1-year-old son, Shoei.

What brought you to Tokyo?

Kim: After years of studying Japanese and exchanging letters with a Japanese pen pal, I finally decided it was time I gave living in Japan a shot. I arrived in Tokyo on Sept. 15, 2000, and spent the next several years working various part-time jobs while taking Japanese lessons.

Yasuda: I'm from Obihiro in Hokkaido and first came to Tokyo six years ago to look for work. I'm now a real estate agent in Nihonbashi.

Kim: After we had our child, Shoei, I had to stop working for a while. But recently I began working again for a telephone company call center.

Where did you hold your wedding?

Yasuda: In South Korea. I must say it was quite an interesting experience.

Kim: My parents insisted we have our wedding in Seoul, where we can easily gather many relatives.

Yasuda: The wedding attire looked like it was straight out of a movie set. We wore traditional South Korean costumes, and as part of the ritual, I carried my wife's mother on my back. Everything was very new and exciting.

What are your favorite foods from each other's cultures?

Yasuda: My favorite Korean dish is "sundubu jjigae," a type of Korean-style stew made from tofu. I like Korean food in general, but I definitely recommend the jjigae dishes.

Kim: I enjoy eating "natto" (fermented soybeans) — and sushi.

Yasuda: We like eating hot food, but with a 1-year-old in the house, we've been cutting down on the spices. We still have two refrigerators though.

Kim: Yes, when my mother comes over from South Korea once a year, she makes a lot of kimchi and stores it in our kimchi fridge. Kimchi has a strong smell, so we need to separate it from other foods. It's a common practice in South Korea.

Where did you go out on dates before you had your child?

Yasuda: We live relatively close to Tokyo Disneyland, so that was a common date spot for us. We frequently visited their shopping center, Ixpiari.

Kim: We also went to see movies quite often.

Were any family members against your marriage?

Yasuda: My father passed away a few months before we got married. I'm sure the cancer drug he was taking had some sort of effect on him, but he insisted he didn't want any foreign blood in the family.

Kim: My family didn't have any problems, although there were a few relatives who showed a vague distaste in me marrying a Japanese. A remnant of the past, I guess.

We know Kim has been studying Japanese for quite a while. How is Yasuda's Korean?

Yasuda: I speak only a little bit. But I've realized that Hangul (the Korean alphabet) is easier to read than imagined.

Kim: Yes, he actually reads Korean quite well.

Yasuda: I think Hangul is easier to understand than Japanese. I was confused when I first saw the alphabet, but soon realized that the characters' construction is relatively simple. It's quite an approachable language. I don't take any Korean lessons, but my wife is my teacher.

Are there any difficulties you've encountered due to cultural differences?

Kim: There are many small differences that sometimes lead to quarrels.

Yasuda: I think South Koreans in general have a stronger will compared with Japanese.

Kim: Yes, in Korea, the man usually takes charge of the household. I'm not saying that's always good, but Japanese men sometimes seem a little bit too gentle and kind.

Yasuda: (laughs)

How do you plan on bringing up your child?

Yasuda: We don't have any definite plans yet. I don't mind whether the child is brought up in Japan or South Korea.

Kim: But I want the child to be able to speak both Japanese and Korean, so I try to speak to him in Korean. We'd like him to eventually enter an international school.

What are the benefits of an international marriage?

Kim: Living in a different culture from the one you are used to is refreshing. Even if we occasionally quarrel over something, it never leads to big fights because we know we are from different backgrounds.

Yasuda: Yes, I think it has expanded our perspectives. It has enhanced my curiosity and appreciation toward other countries. I've come to realize how close, in both distance and culture, Japan and South Korea are.

What's the most interesting thing that happened since you two met?

Yasuda: I think it's when I ate dog meat in South Korea. It tasted good, but there was a dog in my wife's family's house. One day it disappeared, and one of her relatives joked that maybe it had been taken away to be processed as food. This was a bit of a culture shock, even if it was a joke.

(Kim's story is documented in "Asian Spirit — The Other Kim Hye Gyong," an account of her journey from Gwangju, South Korea, to Tokyo, where she now lives with her husband and their 1-year-old son. The title of the book is a reference to kidnap victim Megumi Yokota's daughter, Kim Hye Gyong (later revealed to be Kim Eun Gyong), who has the same name as Kim.)

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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