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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 29, 2006

First anniversary neither will forget

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Yukari Nakajima and Ivan Lui, shown here in Odaiba, Japan, celebrated their first anniversary in Hawai'i.

Family photo

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Thanks to a 6.7-magnitude earthquake off Kona that shook homes and caused a major power outage, Oct. 15 will go down in the history books.

And it will be a one-year wedding anniversary Yukari Nakajima and Ivan Lui will never forget.

The couple was staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village the weekend the earthquake struck.

"It was definitely memorable to have the earthquake on our anniversary," said Lui, 29, an academic and student support specialist at Hawaii Tokai International College. "And it was a bummer to lose electricity for so long."

The couple had to walk down 31 flights of stairs in the dark, then walk to their apartment in McCully in the rain.

Still, they were happy to be safe and together.

"I'll always remember that day," said 28-year-old Nakajima, laughing.

The two met in July 2000, when Nakajima was visiting O'ahu on a one-week educational trip. She was staying with Lui's parents, who, for years, had hosted students from around the world.

Lui, who was attending graduate school at Chaminade University at the time, went to his parents' home one night for dinner. That's when he met Nakajima.

"I was attracted to her," he admitted, "but I didn't think anything would happen."

On her second-to-last night on O'ahu, Lui took Nakajima to Ala Moana Center to eat Hawaiian food.

Since neither could speak the other's language very well, communicating was awkward.

"He was very thoughtful," Nakajima said. "Even though I didn't speak English very well, he took care of me. I could tell he was a funny person."

Before Nakajima left for Japan, they exchanged e-mail addresses. For the next seven months, they sent each other short messages, still struggling to get to know each other despite the language barrier.

In February 2001, Nakajima returned to O'ahu.

That week, they spent as much time together as possible. They snorkeled at Hanauma Bay and hiked up Diamond Head.

Leaving, this time, was even harder.

So five months later, Nakajima quit her job as a department store sales clerk and moved to O'ahu. "I wanted to spend more time with him," she said.

Nakajima rented a place in Kane'ohe and studied English at a language school.

During those 16 months, the two quickly became a couple, seeing each other nearly every day. They confessed their feelings for each other in January 2002, and started talking about marriage.

"Yukari was pretty hot," Lui said, laughing. "It's true! And she made me laugh and smile."

Nakajima also liked Lui's humor. "He can make me laugh more than anyone," she said.

That year they'd walk around Kapi'olani Park, swim at the beach and cook at Lui's apartment in McCully. (His favorite dish of hers is a salmon cream pasta.)

In November 2002 after her student visa expired and she ran out of money Nakajima returned to Japan.

They e-mailed, chatted and talked on the phone every day sometimes more than once spending hundreds of dollars on phone bills.

Lui visited Nakajima in Japan once and she surprised him another time with a visit to Hawai'i. But they hated being apart.

So in August 2003, Lui quit his job as a tutor, sold his car and moved to Ibaraki, a prefecture a few hours from Nakajima's home in Saitama.

He took a job teaching English in elementary schools.

They saw each other every weekend, often making the two-hour train ride during the week to hang out.

But Lui was homesick.

So after Nakajima got her green card through the country's lottery system, the couple decided to move to Hawai'i.

In April 2004 they got an apartment in Mo'ili'ili and jobs at JTB USA Inc.

Four months later, in August 2004, Lui took Nakajima up the Diamond Head trail.

At the lookout he pulled out an engagement ring from his pocket and proposed.

"I was so surprised," Nakajima said.

"Yeah, she asked if it was real," Lui added, laughing.

They were married a year later, on Oct. 15, 2005, at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel among 60 guests.

After the wedding they honeymooned in Las Vegas, where they met up with Lui's family.

Not much has changed with the couple now that they're married. They still love to cook together, swim at the beach and play basketball.

The best part of marriage?

Their friendship.

"We do everything together," Nakajima said. "And we're always laughing."

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