Feb 13

JQ Magazine: JETAA Sakura Sweethearts

By Rick Ambrosio (Ibaraki-ken, 2006-08) for JQ magazine. A dusty old fixture of the JET Alumni Association of New York (JETAANY) community, Rick manages projects at a software company by day and sends drafts late into the night as a writer for JQ.

Well, folks, it’s that time of year again. Maybe you have a special someone you’re going out with on Valentine’s Day. Perhaps you’re grabbing a bunch of friends and doing a “singles karaoke night” instead (Like some JETAANY folks are). Maybe you forgot and this is a great reminder to get some flowers and make a dinner reservation ASAP. Either way, you can only hope for the best.

But some people seem to luck out in love, and I have to say I’m happy when it’s people I like. And what kind of people do I often like? JETs. That’s right, folks, we are going to interview some Cupid-conquering JET couples and get to know how they met, where they came from, and maybe a little advice on how to spark a little JET romance of your own. So if you find yourself at that next JET alum enkai thinking “what if…?,” this might be for you.

Chau Wing Lam (Gunma-ken, 2005-07) and John Ciocco (Saga-ken, 2006-07)

At Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, Philadelphia, May 2014.

At Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, Philadelphia, May 2014.


Did you meet on while on JET? Or after JET through an alumni meeting?

We met during a JETAANY alumni event—a boat cruise on August 20, 2008.

How long have you been together?

We’ve been together since 2008, married in 2014.

Was it your mutual love for Japan that brought you together, or something else?

Mutual love for Japan gave us something to start talking about, then the rest of our conversation filled in from there. We actually got married at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden here in Philadelphia to commemorate what brought us together.

Have you guys ever had to do the “distance” thing? If so, what was that like?

Yes. When we first met, Chau was living in Hoboken and John was living in South Jersey. The commute was about two hours each way, so we only saw each other on weekends. We had some challenges at first being that far away and with the both of us trying to cultivate a new relationship, but we worked through it. Chau moved to Philly in the fall of 2009, shortening the commute to about half an hour—and now we’re married with a four-and-a-half-month-old baby!

Has being on JET made you a “stronger” couple? If so, how?

It’s a shared history that grounds us and helps us remember the many commonalities we have despite our inherent differences. We both learned to be self-deprecating to try and get our students interested in English, and that is definitely a quality that we love about each other and helps us through arguments that arise. Relationships aren’t easy, but we work at it every day—so yes, in some ways, knowing how far out of our comfort zone we’re able to stretch helps us.

What advice do you have for other budding JET couples?

Always remember to have fun with each other as you did in Japan—ALWAYS. And use your commonalities to help bridge the gap when the divide seems too wide!

[Names removed for privacy purposes] (Aomori-ken, 2004-06)

Did you both meet on JET?

Yes! We were on the same plane from the UK to Japan together and went to the same welcome dinner in Tokyo, but didn’t actually encounter each other until the official reception welcoming new JETs in Aomori City. [Husband], who’s Scottish, went up to [Wife] (English) and said, “How does it feel to be a minority for a change?” He meant it to be a friendly comment bringing them together as Westerners in the context of Japan; she thought he was making a point about the overbearing English no longer being in charge. Great start.

How long have you been together?

Over 11 years.

Was it a mutual love for Japan that brought you together?

The JET experience definitely brought us together. And there were so few eligible men in Aomori that Mary didn’t have much choice.

Have you ever done the “distance” thing? What was that like?

In Japan, [Wife] lived in western Aomori and Ewen lived in the east, with a mountain range of up to 5,000 feet in between. So we took turns driving over the mountains to see each other every weekend—even mountain landslides and Aomori’s famous winter blizzards didn’t stop us. When we left Japan, we spent months traveling back to Europe over land through China, Mongolia and Russia. We went from spending every moment together to suddenly heading back to our family homes at opposite ends of the UK. It wasn’t too long before we could move into a flat in London together, but that time felt like an age.

Has being on JET made you a stronger couple? How?

It feels like it’s made us stronger because we have this important shared experience that was key to both of our development as individuals. It also meant that we have some amazing mutual friends who understand us as a couple more than anyone else. And finally, Japanese gives us a “secret” language that comes in very handy…as long as we’re not at JET events, that is.

Any advice for budding JET couples?

Make the most of the JET experience and continue to enjoy sharing it together. We’ve had a great time attending JETAA events since we left Japan—for example, a JET ski trip in Vermont, and a walk to some caves in the South Downs of London. Having this amazing group of JET alumni to hang out with who “get it” is so much fun.

Zachary Piper and Kathryn (Edwards) Piper (Kochi-ken, 2001-04)

At Hammond Castle, Gloucester, Massachusetts, November 2014.

At Hammond Castle, Gloucester, Massachusetts, November 2013.


Where did you both live in Kochi?

Katy lived in Kochi City, the prefectural capital. Zach was placed in Umaji Mura (literally, “horse-path village”), two hours into the mountains.

Did you meet on while on JET?

We met on JET. Katy had a huge apartment in the “big” city, so it was the crash pad for country JETs on weekends. We met at her place with some friends before going to a Halloween party. Zach borrowed her skirt for a very unfortunate drag costume.

How long have you been together?

Since October of 2002, so 13 years. We consider Halloween our dating anniversary. It’s our favorite holiday.

Was it your mutual love for Japan that brought you together, or something else?

I think that shared experience certainly helped us stay together! We have a lot of memories of Kochi, and our travels. Being in Japan made us want to explore the rest of the world. We went to Cambodia, China, Australia, and camped and drove all over Kochi and parts of Kyushu. We discovered we made good travel buddies, and that meant a lot.

Have you guys ever had to do the “distance” thing? If so, what was that like?

When we first started dating in Japan we were kind of doing a “distance” thing. Zach had to drive about two hours from the village to visit Katy in Kochi City, so we only saw each other on weekends. In Zach’s third year, his JET placement changed and he moved to Kochi City, which made seeing each other much easier.

Once we returned to the U.S., we were on opposite coasts for about six months, and that was difficult. Katy had to return to California after JET. She worked and saved up to be able to move to Massachusetts, where Zach was living with his family, but we had no concrete plans for a while. We were able to get together a couple of times then—we took a road trip from Seattle down the Oregon and California coast after we attended Zach’s cousin’s wedding. (Katy got to meet all of Zach’s extended family at once!) Later, Katy came to visit Zach and meet some of his friends, including one who eventually offered us an extra room in her apartment, so Katy could move East.

Has being on JET made you a “stronger” couple?

We think so. Having had such an emotionally charged shared experience has created an understanding between us that’s hard to find with anyone else. You know how it is, friends back home ask “how was living in Japan?” but after a few short sentences they look like they’ve heard enough.

After JET we returned to Kochi for an adventure that definitely made us a stronger couple: We fulfilled a dream to make the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. We hiked, camped and encountered all kinds of people for about 50 straight days. You can’t do that with everyone. Even though we had days when we were cranky and misunderstanding one another, we wouldn’t have wanted to share that experience with anyone else. We often think about going again.

What advice do you have for other budding JET couples?

All I know is that if I couldn’t have traveled with Zach, we wouldn’t have stayed together very long. Try adventuring together—it’s part of the reason many of us went to Japan anyway.

For more JQ magazine interviews, click here.

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