Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Intercultural Love: Tara & Yohei

Tara Kamiya writes a wonderful blog and she has been featured on TLC's Four Weddings!

Tara Kamiya, American, Black/African American, born and raised in NYC, but now live in semi-rural Japan with my husband Yohei and our 3 children (5, 3, 1 year old).

Three words that describe you...
Creative, Passionate, Funny.

Favorite childhood memory...
Playing dolls with my sister. We loved to make them clothes and create these elaborate dramas!

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
When I am alone to just think and create. Coffee, stationary, and decorative elements from nature.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
In a nightclub in NYC. His friends were having a party on one floor, and my friends were having a birthday party on a lower floor. He had been living there for 5 years. I had been home from college (NC) almost 10 years.

How long have you been together?
Married 6 years, dated 1 year.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
He is always calm and does his best to make sure we are all happy. He is capable of seeing the positive side of every situation. It is sometimes inconceivable how positive he is. I am envious at times of how little he worries.

 Favorite memory together as a couple...
There are so many. One of my favorites was when we were dating fairly early and he told me that we were going to have our pictures in the newspaper when they wrote about our family business. "This Japanese man has a good restaurant and his wife is black!!" It was hilarious...

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I had studied the Japanese language for 3 years off an on as a hobby because I had always planned to visit and I knew the English skills in Asia were not that great. I did not want to be limited. Thank goodness, because now we live here and I moved here having basic communication skills!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
I told my family, but since I was getting into my 30s I think they would have been happy had it been a cow. They were just concerned that I was marrying a good person that I could build my life with.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
It has allowed me to experience the boundlessness of humanity. For every close minded person who does everything within their culture, there is a cult-like existence of people who refuse to follow all the cultural rules and spend their lives in their home-town. I have a whole circle of friends who are drastically different from what you might see on TV. One of my friends is of Russian ancestry, totally white, but can speak Amharic and married an Ethiopian woman.

Who proposed and how?
He made this elaborate proposal with a custom painting, a ring, and a gift. It was like a dream. When I was happy just to be asked I got so much more.

Describe your wedding...
We decided on having a garden wedding with a Native American theme. I think we were so bored of our cultures!!! We were also learning a lot about Native culture and wanted to show respect to the land where we both met.

What does being married mean to you?
It means being a partner, a healer, a many things. Being married can be selfless, especially when you have children. A good marriage is about balance. Never compromise it.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
Surviving the phase of raising children. It is the hardest thing I have ever done...and I have jumped from an airplane. We also love to travel and I am already planning a trip to Hawaii.

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
It was from my dad. At our wedding he said, "your marriage is what you make it". It can be as hard or as easy as you make it.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship? 
Communication and individuality. My husband grew up not seeing anyone foreign. I cannot imagine. Collectively, Japanese culture does not promote individuality. I like that there is peace here and people are considerate, but there is little balance in society and little tolerance for difference. I can give that to the children and hopefully affect those around our family in school and in the neighbourhood. They also never valued the mother in the family as a contributor mentally. There were no family meetings and things were not discussed as a family. He is not running a dictatorship. We are not living that lifestyle for our family. 

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse? 
Our favorite thing is to watch a thought provoking movie and eat expensive snacks. It is something we can enjoy while our kids are still young and we can go whoop it up again once they get a bit older.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
I love sitting on the floor. I refuse to buy a sofa, especially while the kids are young. They have hot carpets and kotatsu in the winter. I also like the diet in Japan, I don't think I have eaten a diet of even 30% meat since I have been here. The portions are very small and I have gotten very thin (I had no idea that was even possible) just eating Japanese food.

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
Greetings and respect are big. When someone comes home, before we eat. The grandparents have passed on since I have moved here and the funeral lasts a year! I was shocked that they are honored every year after, like an anniversary. There are ways to respect everything and it feels good.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace? 
The lack of communication. It is common to find a grown man or woman with very poor social skills. Too much emphasis on the feelings of others. There is no balance. The lack of mental health. Suicide is still very high here (so I am told). I want to learn more about why Japan has not developed better mental health practices.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed... 
Not many, because I studied basic culture before arriving. But I did something that my mother-in-law said many young Japanese don't even know. I crossed my robe incorrectly. It is crossed one way for the dead, and the Kimono is crossed the other way. I still don't know right over left, or left over right. I supposed I could look it up though!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship? 
Moving back to Japan. We attempted to live with our inlaws....well, on the same patch of land in our own house. I had no idea that they would want to control so much of our lives. My parents did not manipulate my life at all like that. They did not require so much "respect". I learned more about Daughter-in-Law culture and I was shocked. So, we moved into an apartment off of the land. It costs more to live, but I will not take on oppressive archaic parts of any culture. Sayonara in-laws!

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
Best: Stretching your life experience.
Worst: Not having those matching jokes from childhood movies, songs, etc.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships? 
That you hate your own. People assume that if you marry out of your race/ culture that you hate your own race/culture. Goodness! This is who I ran into while I was working and having a good time and they happened to be outside of what I have known all my life. Instead of thinking that it may be interesting to find a mate outside of that which you have always known, people turn it into self-hate.

What are the biggest misconceptions about African-American women / Japanese people?
That African American women match all that you see on TV, every negative thing you can think of must represent all of us. That if you marry outside of your race/culture the mate must be an idiot.

Another one is that Japanese people are all close minded and rich. Japanese people work more than any other country (so I am told) so why would they not have money? There are poor people here, and there are open minded people here too. 

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them? 
People are not rude, but they just have tons of questions. I guess we are still in a world where you don't find that African-American women and Asian men keep company together.... so to be married? Kinda original, I totally agree. I grew up in Queens NY, the site of the human genome project. I grew up in classes where there were students from 20 countries. For me it is normal to keep company with anyone! My best friends to date are black (African American), Korean (Asian), and White (Caucasian).

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
If I could do a one statement......"So we are supposed to eat together, shop together, work together, learn together in school, do business together and never marry each other?"

The internet has made the world much smaller. Many people from all over the world are meeting and marrying. I will not allow ignorance to push others' negative pre-conceived notions on to me or my friends. 


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  1. What an interesting couple!
    Tara's observations about Japanese culture is fascinating. ( I love your wedding dress, Tara & the cherry blossoms on the wedding cake are gorgeous too.)
    Can I ask what sort of restaurant your husband owns?
    "your marriage is what you make it" - words to live by!

  2. "That you hate your own. People assume that if you marry out of your race/ culture that you hate your own race/culture. Goodness!"

    I can't agree more of your analysis ... about this false assumption made by people if you marry outside your own "cultural set". I hope more and more people realize that marriage and love transcends race. It is about mutual respect and understanding each other. You make a lovely couple!

  3. Just by reading her words I feel like we could have very interesting conversations together, we would get along well. Seems like an amazing couple, beautiful wedding photos!


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