My parents have a real romantic love story.
My father is of German descent, but grew up in South Africa. He and his six siblings were raised in an old farmhouse overlooking the Stellenbosch Valley. The ramshackle house was surrounded by plum and guava trees, and the horses, dogs, cats and chickens were all considered part of the family. My grandmother was a voracious reader of books, and maybe that is where my father first saw pictures of the Far East, and got the notion to travel the world one day. But that would be many years into the future. He was still a young man, who never even bothered to wear shoes when he walked to school.
My mother is Japanese and was raised in a traditional household in Tokyo. Her parents saw the end of World War II as a time to broaden horizons, and so all three precious daughters were sent abroad to study English. My mother landed at a high school in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She arrived there as a 16 year old who didn’t speak a word of English. She had a kind host family that reassured my anxious Japanese grandfather that there would be no American “boyfriends” for this young exchange student.
As a teenager, my father went to a local Naval Academy. It was a place for boys to learn practical skills, get some discipline, and see the world. As a young merchant seaman, his work took him all over the world. On one fateful trip in 1960, he was sent to Kobe where he officially fell in love with Japan.
My mother graduated high school in 1962 and returned safely home to Tokyo. She arrived back with a suitcase full of the American fashions, a beehive hairdo, and a love for Elvis Presley. She enrolled at ICU University in Tokyo, and caused quite a stir driving to campus each day in her Lincoln Convertible.
At about the same time, my father also applied to university in Japan. It was his last hope; after months of desperately listening to Radio Nippon trying to absorb the Japanese language, he knew he needed to go back to school. Intrigued that a student from the African continent wanted to study Japanese, ICU sent him an acceptance letter. It was an exciting time in Japan, as the violent student protests of the ’60’s shook the establishment.
My parents tell me that it was love at first sight. I do believe my Dad on that one; my mom may have taken a bit of convincing. In any case, romance blossomed quickly. VERY quickly. They decided to get married within 3 months of their first date. It was early days for mixed marriages, and my Japanese grandfather had a heart attack (a real one!) and only snapped out of despair once my oldest sister was born.
I can very well imagine how their relationship must’ve raised eyebrows at that time, and I know they encountered a fair amount of discrimination. But my parents were young and in love so they gloss over that period of their lives, choosing to focus on the positive things that came forth of their marriage. To me, their story is just so romantic, and I never get tired of telling their sweet story.
A special shout-out goes to my sister Marie who helped me with all the details to write this blog, and my sister Lisa for going through all the family albums to send me all the perfect pictures!