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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 9, 2006

Hawai'i perfect place for mixed marriage

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Junko Abe and Joe Thacker combined Western and Japanese traditions for their September wedding. The couple chose to marry in Hawai'i, a place halfway between their families in Japan and Canada.

Photo by David Murphy

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Joe Thacker hadn't lived anywhere outside his native Toronto before moving to Japan four years ago.

But he did know at least one person there: Junko Abe.

Thacker had met Abe in Yokohama a few months before he moved to Japan's second-largest city, when he was visiting friends on a five-week tour of Asia.

There was absolutely no chemistry that first night.

"There was no interest at all," said Abe, a 32-year-old market researcher and translator. "My friend asked me to go, so I did. He must have been tired or something, because he didn't speak a word. So I thought, 'What a boring guy.' I actually left pretty early."

But that changed once Thacker moved to Yokohama.

After exchanging e-mails, he invited Abe to meet for coffee. Thinking they were meeting more friends, Abe agreed. She was surprised to find just Thacker sitting at Starbucks waiting for her.

But once they started talking, she didn't mind at all.

"It was really fun," Abe said. "He's always thinking, so he has a lot to talk about. I had fun just listening to him."

They found that despite the cultural differences, they had a lot in common. They both shared an interest in design and art, a career involving market research, and a passion for food and travel.

"We seemed to click right away," said Thacker, 31, a financial analyst. "We just hit it off."

The two dated for the next four months, trying new restaurants and traveling around Japan. (They went to a karaoke bar once, but since both sang so badly, they never went back, Abe said, laughing.)

Then Thacker dropped the bomb: He was heading back to Toronto.

Before moving to Japan, Thacker had planned to enroll in a graduate program in business back home later that year. He didn't expect he'd get into a serious relationship while in Yokohama.

"By then, we knew we really loved each other, and our feelings were pretty strong," Thacker said. "We talked about it lots and knew that a long-distance relationship wasn't going to work."

He suggested that Abe move back to Toronto with him, but she was unsure whether this was the right move for her.

"It was a really hard decision," said Abe, whose family lives in Yokohama. "But he was really wanting me to come to Canada, and it just felt like the right idea. Everybody thought I was crazy."

That year, in 2003, the couple, who had only been dating for four months, packed up and moved to Toronto.

For the first few weeks, Abe focused on getting comfortable in a new country. Luckily, she had lived in California for the four years she had attended California State University-Fresno, where she earned a degree in mass communications. That helped with her transition.

But the one thing about Canada that took some getting used to was the weather.

"We moved in the winter, so it was really bad," Abe said. "It was really depressing for me. It was really cold, and every day it was snowing. Joe went to school, and I had to stay in the house all the time, watching the snow."

Within a few weeks, Abe began looking for a job. She landed one as a translator at an insurance company, where she continues to work today.

Then on Feb. 11, 2004, exactly one year from their first date at Starbucks, Thacker proposed.

After a visit to Starbucks for nostalgic purposes they went to a Japanese restaurant for sushi. At home that night, over green-tea ice cream and wine, Thacker popped the question.

"I was so surprised," Abe said. "I was hoping (he'd propose) sometime in the future, but not in February. I had just moved a few months ago, so I wasn't thinking he'd propose."

They decided to plan the wedding after Thacker finished graduate school the next year, and after they both got more settled in their new life.

"I guess we hadn't been dating that long, really only a year, so I felt an engagement was important, because she had made the commitment to come to Canada," Thacker said. "But we didn't want to rush (the marriage)."

Though they talked about planning the wedding in their native countries, the couple decided to get married somewhere in the middle. Abe quickly suggested Hawai'i.

"It's in the middle of both countries," said Abe, who has been to the Islands at least half a dozen times. "I thought it would be a good idea ... And the weather is so nice."

Abe flew to Hawai'i in 2004 to scout out possible locations for their nuptials. Along with wedding coordinator Mona Hirata, Abe chose the Kahala Mandarin Oriental for its location on the outskirts of Waikiki.

Thacker and Abe exchanged vows on Sept. 22, 2005, at the hotel in front of about 40 guests.

To make their wedding reflect their relationship, the couple decided to incorporate their cultural differences into their wedding. The invitations were written in English and Japanese. Their Western-style church service was accompanied by a traditional sake ceremony.

"It was really a mix of our two cultures," Abe said.

They still love to try new cuisines and travel. Their next big trip will be to Japan, then New Zealand.

Though the weather isn't as warm as Yokohama, Abe enjoys Toronto's multicultural vibe. And it helps that Thacker has made her transition to a new country so easy.

"He's always happy, so that makes me really happy, too," Abe said.

Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.