Qunye Velaphi & Takako Shoji

Food, Faith and Love in WA is a nine-piece video series that has captured the stories of an incredible and diverse group of West Australians surrounding three of the most basic human values. This series was created for the Office of Multicultural Interests for Harmony Week 2017.

Velaphi and Takako reflect on 40 years of love, and the challenges of marriage across cultures – starting with a conversation about their wedding day on a warm Perth day in 1980.


[Transcript]

TAKAKO

I have lived here now about 40 years, and 40 years ago Japanese girls were supposed to get married before 25 years old. I’m the youngest one and I’ve seen three older sisters get married, some arranged marriages, etcetera. I thought, “No way can I get married like my sister did.” And so I realised, “Okay, I need to look after myself.” So, to look after myself I would need some professional job or career. In those days—and it is still quite difficult—the majority of girls got married, and that’s it. So I thought, “Well what sort of career, perhaps, can I have and be single?” So, I said to myself, “Well okay, English, perhaps in the future would be quite handy to know” and because Japan was progressing in trading internationally, I thought, “Okay, I had better learn English properly” and in those days if you want to learn English you go to the United Kingdom or United States of America.

One day I went to the bookshop and found out about Australia from a tape there. I listened to that and I thought, “Wow, that is amazing!” and then I started searching about Australia and contacted the Australian Embassy. In those days there were not many students from Japan. I got the information directly from the Australian Embassy and they told me that as long as my English was at a certain level I would not have to pay any school fees. That made me think, “Oh, this is it!” as I knew my parents would not support me and would definitely oppose my study overseas. I did it all quietly and after I got the letter from the Australian Embassy that I would be able to study there, I told my parents.

I think the Australian Government was very generous to the overseas students by providing the opportunity to have friends amongst us. I think, almost fortnightly, they organised some kind of event BBQ and opportunities for people to get together. So, the opportunity was there and we got to know each other.

VELAPHI

We met and obviously did things together. Because we met as overseas students in this sort of organized environment, then you have to make sure, probably, that you meet privately, when it is not organized. And it was [a question of] how often do you see each other. You just have to make the necessary arrangements to know each other before marriage comes into it. You know that is too far away. Because I came here as a student and to see if the relationship is, you know, quite okay, I mean, she could have been, you know—

TAKAKO                                                                                                                                                                  

I think how it happened was I went to Japan after about 12 months and obviously–I think that triggered, more, like oh, okay maybe we should really take it more seriously.

VELAPHI     

More marriage, but it didn’t matter if she went away or stayed along, it wasn’t a big issue.

TAKAKO  

Fundamental values toward whatever your life, etcetera. Even though our background is very different—you know, he was born in Zimbabwe, I was born in Japan. Until we came here we were totally brought up in a different environment. However, I realise the fundamental value is not very much different. For example, to  respect older people, or that women are a little bit stronger—even though on the surface women do not give a strong impression, but the actual sort of strengths amongst women is, I think, similar to ladies and Japanese women. There is also that community mindedness, it’s not all me, me, me.  You really have to think about other people as well. And so, a similar value and approach between the Zimbabwe culture and perhaps the Japanese culture.

VELAPHI    

The more time we spent together, the more we did things together, I had the feeling that she was put under pressure—because she did not really know my background and others were conscious of that—you are not going to get the lady who would go to Africa. And then [I questioned] is she going to cope—let alone the cultural thing. Our African culture, maybe that would not be a problem, but the political involvement in Africa is very different and also the political set-up. If she was faced with racism in Africa, would she cope? And this goes through your mind when you are meeting young ladies. And to me, the more we got to know each other, I felt that if she was put under stress, she would cope.

TAKAKO     

Oh, she coped, so far.

VELAPHI

Well what we did, we decided we wanted to get married but couldn’t because we were students.

TAKAKO       

Poor students.

VELAPHI     

So, if we were to get married, we would have to put processes into place.

We decided we were going to get married, and the thing is—where are we going to get married, who is going to be part of our marriage, and how are we going to pay for it?  All the African students were here. I told them I was going to get married and they were very excited about it—but they never thought I would get married to a young Asian lady. So, I said, “See here you guys I am going to get married.” “Right” they said, “are you really serious?” I said, “How can I tell you I am going to get married if I am not going to get married?” They said, “Well if you’re really just playing with this girl, she’s just going to go on her way back there.” I said, “No guys I’m getting married, I am really serious, I am going to tell you the date.” Then all of the students said, “Look here, we’re not going to contribute any money but we’ve got a stereo system and we’ll contribute all the music you want for your wedding and will set it up for you.”

We got married in 1980 and we didn’t have our first child until 1982. Quite particular as regards to—as you know mixed marriages are still not quite welcome for traditional Japanese people.

TAKAKO     

I knew that when I decided to get married to him that my parents would not be happy. So, when I went back to Japan I started telling my mum that I wanted to get married to this guy from Zimbabwe and she was totally, totally shocked and she couldn’t speak to me for a while and I could see she was totally upset and her health might be deteriorating. So, I said, “Okay, mum don’t worry about this,” and she actually told me, “I prefer you to be single than getting married to this African guy.” So that was her words. So, she said she would never talk about my marriage, but fortunately, my brothers and sisters are very supportive—well, like, secretly.

VELAPHI   

Well I think Naomi is conscious of her Africanness because she has visited there with us and on her own—she can make, and she did this once, she went after leaving high school and after university. She spent some time there so she is aware of it. But she is an Australian so it’s no big deal to her. She is very relaxed to go to Africa and meet African relatives, it’s no big deal.

TAKAKO  

I think, perhaps because she has travelled to quite a lot of countries that has helped her. I think everywhere you go, you come across some kind of racial issues. But she knows that she is happy and she’s got the confidence of being an Australian so hopefully it doesn’t bother her, you know, being mixed descent of African and Japanese. Luckily, maybe as a parent, maybe we’re a bit naive, I don’t know, but both kids never came home with tears and, “Oh, I’ve been bullied.”

VELAPHI   

If people are concerned about racism, and I go down with my wife and she goes down with a black husband, African, people can talk as much as they like. But to us, we’re challenging the system of racism. You see, our kids do the same.

TAKAKO  

Its parenting really, you know these days people have complained about, “Oh it’s so difficult to bring up children,” but kids observe parents every minute, every day. They can see the conflicts, they can see all the lying. As long as people do the right things, yeah, just do the right thing.

VELAPHI 

But if they come here and they live in a mixed marriage family. To them it’s reality. It’s not talking about what they’ve seen in the street. They’re coming home, and who’s home? Mom and dad, and they’re different races, right?

TAKAKO          

Mom and dad.

VELAPHI     

Mom and dad. That’s it. Full stop.

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