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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MIXED MATCHES

Pair get more than fluency from language swap lessons


Staff writer

Guillermo Larese roia, 42, from Argentina, and Keiko Iwasaki, 31, met a decade ago in Japan after one of them put a message about swapping Japanese and Spanish lessons in a free publication.

News photo
Home cooking: Keiko Iwasaki and Guillermo Larese roia have Sunday afternoon lunch on the terrace of their hand-made log house in Okutama, west Tokyo. MAMI MARUKO PHOTO

Their teacher-student relationship soon turned to one of friendship and, in the end, marriage.

Born in Buenos Aires to a Spanish mother and Italian father, Guille (short for Guillermo) first arrived in Japan in 1994 to learn aikido but went back to Argentina for a couple of years. He returned to Japan in 1996 to polish his aikido skills and eventually progressed to the level of black belt.

Since then he has lived and worked in Tokyo. Now, he has his own aikido dojo and teaches there while also practicing Zen meditation at a temple. The couple live in a log house in Okutama, western Tokyo, which, excluding the foundations, they built together from scratch.

The atmosphere of the house is Western, but with some Japanese accents, such as a pillar from a temple standing in the middle and a tatami area in the corner. Araucaria, a rare tree from the Patagonia district of Argentina, which Guille found in the neighborhood by chance, is planted in the garden along with Japanese cedar and cypress trees.

Guille earns a living by renovating shops and restaurants, work that he gets mostly by word of mouth through friends and acquaintances, while Keiko is a staff member in the Okutama town tourism department and plans "forest therapy" as well as other events such as yoga and guided tours in the woods.

How did you start dating?

Keiko: It was very natural. We started out as friends, and didn't think that we would date, as we both had a girlfriend or boyfriend at the time.

Guille: But gradually we became closer, dated for a year and got married seven years ago.

What was the proposal like?

Guille: There was no proposal. It was "dekichatta kekkon" (getting pregnant and marrying afterward). No, no, I'm just joking! I just thought that we should get married.

Keiko: It was nothing like "I love you, so let's get married." After dating for about a year, a situation arrived in which we were going to be separated between Japan and Argentina, and looking back, that was just the right timing for us to decide to get married.

What was the style of your wedding?

Guille: We had a pure Buddhist-style wedding at a temple in Tokyo under a good monk friend of mine. I practiced Zen there.

Keiko wore "shiromuku" and I wore "hakama" pants. One hundred and fifty guests were there, including Keiko's family, relatives and many of our close friends. We did the whole ceremony, including "san-san-kudo" (exchanging of nuptial cups).

The wedding started at 2 p.m. and the banquet followed. We served paella at 9 p.m. and partied till 2 a.m. the following morning! I wore a traditional costume of Argentina and Keiko wore a white wedding dress, which most Japanese girls dream of wearing on their wedding day.

Keiko: Later, we also had a wedding party with Guille's family and relatives in his hometown.

How did your parents react to the marriage?

Keiko: My parents had nothing against me marrying a foreigner. They always let me do whatever I liked to do in the past, and it was the same with my marriage.

Guille: Basically, my mother said nothing, as it was something that a grownup man decided on. However, she said to me,"Oh, you won't be coming back to Argentina anymore."

Keiko: I think his mother must have felt lonely then, as Guille's father had already died, and she was on her own.

What language do you speak to each other?

Keiko: Half Spanish and half Japanese. Maybe more Spanish lately, so that I have a chance to improve my Spanish.

Do you feel any cultural differences communicating with each other?

Guille: No, not at all.

Keiko: No. We share the same kind of values and mentality, so I don't feel like I'm married to a foreigner.

What do you think of each other's jobs?

Guille: She should do whatever she likes to do.

Keiko: I don't care so much about money or honorable positions. What matters is whether we're happy and fulfilled or not. If he's happy with what he's doing, then that's a good thing.

What are your plans for the future?

Guille: I normally work, but I like to do things around the house, too. For example, making a patio in the garden and a tree house near the river (at the end of their garden). I'd like to make many more things!

Keiko: We aspire to be self-sufficient in food as much as possible. Also, I would like us to have kids in the not-so-distant future.

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