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Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009

MIXED MATCHES

Couple share California dream, can't wait to get back in the States


Staff writer

Ever since Haruki Imaoka watched the popular American TV series "Beverly Hills, 90210," he had dreamed of marrying a good-looking Western girl. When he went to Los Angeles for college, he met local resident Laura Beltz in May 2004, and they hit it off right away.

News photo
Starting out: Haruki and Laura Beltz Imaoka pose in their apartment in Kita Ward, Tokyo, in December. COURTESY OF HARUKI AND LAURA IMAOKA

After Haruki finished his studies, the couple spent five months apart when he returned to his hometown of Osaka to work to save up for an engagement ring while Laura pursued her master's degree in anthropology at California State University, Northridge. After getting her degree, she joined Haruki in Japan in August 2007. They married in December 2007 and now live in Kita Ward, Tokyo.

Now they share not only a home but a workplace, too. Haruki, 24, is a senior majoring in economics at Temple University, Japan Campus, while Laura Beltz Imaoka, 27, is a student services coordinator there.

How did you two meet?

Laura: I had just got my undergraduate degree at the University of California (Santa Barbara) and moved back home. I was taking an arts course at the College of the Canyons in Los Angeles, and I sat by some Japanese students in the classroom. We always used to talk outside the library, which seemed to be a hangout place for Japanese students. Haruki was there with his friends.

What were your first impressions of each other?

Laura: At first he was so shy. I used to talk a lot, and I realized that sometimes, particularly on the phone, I would make a sarcastic comment and he would take it literally! I also thought, "I'm talking way too much, he's not even following what I'm saying." But he would recall things that I mentioned in a conversation that even I couldn't remember, and I realized he was actually listening!

Haruki: Not any more!

Laura: He's tuned me out now! But at the time it made me think, "He really likes me!"

Why did you decide to get married last year?

Haruki: I had to come back to Japan to continue my studies because I couldn't afford to pay the international student fees at American universities.

Laura: Partially, it was the visa. After we were engaged, I got a working visa to come here with an English-teaching job, but I detested it. So we thought, if we got a spouse visa, I would have time to fish around for a job. We wanted to get started on this process; it was something to relax me.

Did you have a big wedding?

Haruki: We didn't have a ceremony; we just did the paperwork.

Laura: We want to have a wedding in a few years, when Haruki has finished studying and we've settled down. We want to have a small ceremony just for our families in Hawaii — a minivacation for everyone, halfway between Osaka and L.A.!

Haruki: At the moment, we're broke!

Did you have any difficulties with your families when you got together?

Haruki: Not with my family. My parents really like her, and they always say Laura-chan, Laura-chan!

Laura: Haruki's family is very nontraditional, very relaxed. His dad does laundry and cooking; I love the family dynamic. And with my family, when we were in L.A., Haruki was around at my house all the time. He was like their second son! Their only concern was our financial situation because he is still a student.

How are you coping with your financial difficulties?

Laura: We live very frugally now, and it makes you realize how lucky you were. I used to shop all the time, and I'm a big shoe person. But I can't find my shoe size here! I'm learning to save money, and I've realized that what I really need is what I have. You don't need much to be happy and to survive.

What language(s) do the two of you usually use?

Haruki: We speak 99.9 percent in English.

Laura: I only started studying Japanese after I met him, so I don't speak much Japanese! When I moved over here, I was an English teacher, so I wasn't supposed to speak Japanese. So although my listening improved, my speaking didn't. Haruki's English was good from the time we met.

What are your impressions of your partner's country?

Laura: I only visited Japan after we met. When you fly in at night, the lights are so crazy, like Las Vegas!

Haruki: The weather in L.A. is so warm; people are always friendly, and it's cheap to own a car!

Laura: I miss the variety of food there. You can get ethnic food in Tokyo, but it's expensive.

What are your likes and dislikes about your partner?

Haruki: When she first arrived in Japan, she was so weepy!

Laura: I was so unhappy with my English-teaching job. I felt useless being here. You're not really asked to do anything extraordinary. I was really bored, and it could get isolating.

Haruki: She's been much better since she got her current job.

Laura: When Haruki gets stressed, he becomes very quiet and goes into a different mode. It used to bug me. I used to think, "Why won't you tell me why you're upset?" I'm very open with my emotions.

Haruki: Too open!

Laura: Yes! Well, we have very different personalities, but we always make each other laugh.

Do you intend to stay in Japan?

Laura: No, we'd like to go back to the U.S. in the next few years.

Haruki: I'm hoping to get a job in Los Angeles. I don't really like the lifestyle in Japan.

Do you have any plans to have children?

Haruki: I would definitely like to have kids. At least two!

Laura: My main goal at the moment is to return to America to get a Ph.D. and be a professor. Then we'll think about having kids — we'll have dogs first!

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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