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Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008


Pair's flexibility keeps their options open

Staff writer

Smart couples have smart rules.

News photo
Laid-back lifestyle: Shinya Kitani and wife Cassie sit with their children (from left) Camden, Pheobe and Demi on a couch at their house in Tokyo on Dec. 6. COURTESY OF CASSIE KITANI

Cassie Kitani, 38, an Australian, and her husband, Shinya, 43, want to make sure they are both happy wherever they live.

When they got married, they agreed that if one wanted to move back to their home country, they would.

"When you live in a foreign country, someday you just have to say, 'It's enough,' " Cassie said. Shinya had that phase after he and Cassie moved to Australia and lived there seven years, and they are convinced returning to Japan was just the right move for them and their three children.

It probably helped that Cassie's career as a schoolteacher allows her to find work easily in Australia and Japan, and Shinya's laid-back and flexible nature makes everything, including a career switch, seem easy.

A former Nova teacher, Cassie now works for Tokyo International School in Minato Ward, while Shinya is a self-employed sculptor etching drawings and letters on mirrors, photo frames, tables and other items, after going through several different occupations. They both speak English and Japanese.

They have two daughters, Pheobe, 8, and Demi, 6, and a son, Camden, who will turn 5 on Tuesday.

Why did you come to Japan?

Cassie: I was a schoolteacher when I got a job offer from Nova. I came to Tokyo in 1995. I wanted to come to Japan because of the interesting history and I wanted to live abroad. Japan was the country that was most different from my own!

How did you meet?

Cassie: Shinya was my student at Nova. We first met in October 1997. Dating a student was against company policy, and if we had been caught, I might have been fired. To avoid getting caught, we left the school premises separately and met on a street not so far from it.

What were you doing before you met Cassie?

Shinya: After college, I worked for Canon Sales Co. (now Canon Marketing Japan Inc.) for three years. After that, I spent four years backpacking through 10 Asian countries and working several part-time jobs in Tokyo. From 1996, I worked for the sales department of a geological survey company, and that is what I was doing when I met Cassie.

When did you marry and what did you do then?

Cassie: We got married and had a reception in Australia on Aug. 8, 1999. We did not do anything in Japan.

Shinya: My parents, sister, her husband and six friends of mine came along. I didn't want to have a wedding ceremony, but the ceremony is basically to make the bride's parents happy, so we did it in Australia.

Cassie: My grandma said we had to get married in a Catholic church, but Shinya did not want to do it because he is a Buddhist. We ended up getting married in a beautiful garden in Sydney at a reception house called Oatlands.

How did your parents react to your marriage?

Shinya: My father seemed to have mixed feelings. He did not say anything specific, but he seemed to have wanted to maintain pure Japanese ethnicity in his family. He was a typical Japanese father working hard and rarely staying at home, so he and I did not even have time to argue. My mother has nothing against my marriage as she is a laid-back person.

Cassie: My mother said I can marry Shinya if he wants to live in Australia one day. My father said, "If you are happy, go for it."

You two moved to Australia when Cassie was pregnant with Pheobe. Why?

Cassie: Shinya thought it would be best to go to my home country for the birth. My blood type is Rh negative. We were concerned about any problems arising due to my blood type, which is uncommon in Japan. So I left my teaching job at the Tokyo International School.

Shinya: Also, I remembered the promise to Cassie's mother.

Cassie: You were so brave then because you were 35 and had a good job.

How long did you live in Australia?

Shinya: From 2000 to 2007. We had three children during the period.

Why did you decide to leave Australia?

Shinya: Two reasons. The first one is that the housing market seemed to have reached a bubble level. We sold our house and that was good timing to move.

The second reason is that our children did not speak any Japanese.

I showed DVDs of "Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon" and other Japanese kids' shows, but it did not work. I thought I would become a lonely grandpa.

Cassie: Shinya was working a lot in Australia. (He was a tour conductor and a coordinator to match Australian host families with Japanese youths.) His relationship with kids is not like a father and kids. So, I thought, in Japan I can work for an international school and Shinya can look after the kids.

Are your children going to a Japanese school?

Shinya: Yes. Pheobe goes to a public elementary school. Demi and Camden attend kindergarten.

What language do you speak to your children?

Shinya: One hundred percent Japanese. I am trying to have them speak Japanese to each other. Currently, they mostly speak English to each other.

Cassie: One hundred percent English. So, my Japanese is getting worse.

Are you happy with your children's English and Japanese skills?

Cassie: I am really happy with their improving Japanese skill. They are able to switch languages between Shinya and me and they now have a fantastic relationship with their father. Pheobe knows more kanji than I probably ever will! It is amazing to see them naturally learn both languages.

It is definitely something that was not working as well in Australia.

Shinya: Pheobe had a difficult time at first. She didn't speak any Japanese and that made her day long and lonely. She has settled in now and has made some good friends. Her Japanese ability is better than a native speaker. Demi and Camden have also had a hard time. They have found it much harder to make friends but they are getting there. Their Japanese is improving every day.

What are your future plans for your children's education?

Shinya: We are considering sending them to an international school. We do not know what the best age is.

Cassie: It's weird now. The children speak English to each other. Mom speaks English and Dad speaks Japanese. It would be more natural if the children spoke English at school and everybody spoke Japanese at home.

Do you argue over child-rearing?

Shinya: Never. My wife is a teacher, so I don't try to argue.

Is Cassie the boss of the family?

Shinya: Pretty much (laughs). Two boss monkeys cannot live on the same mountain. She and I both want to be a boss, but I let her be one.

Cassie: He thinks I am bossy and I can be! If only he could learn to do it my way! (laughs) On the big decisions like buying a house, he most definitely calls the shots!

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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