Yuka &
Luis

About the couple

Luis is an illustrator. He's from a small city in Spain and spent two decades living in Amsterdam.

Yuka led a sustainable fashion brand for eight years. She grew up in the Japanese countryside before studying abroad in America and working in England.

Together they run Almost Perfect, a Tokyo-based residency for creatives from all over the world. 

Interview
By Justin Barber
December, 2019

Photos
By Justin Barber
Pixel 3
Moment Wide Lense
VSCO AL5 Preset 

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Justin: Tell me about where you grew up! 

Yuka: I'm the first one in my family’s history that is married to a non-Japanese. I was born and raised in Chiba and my whole education up to high school was all in Japanese. My family was, you know, just a normal family from the countryside of Japan. We had maybe one train per hour.

When I came to Tokyo for the first time – I think it was at Harajuku station – my friend and I missed the train. So I was telling her that we’d have to check the timetable, but she told me, “Yuka, the trains here come every two minutes.”

[laughter]

Yuka: After high school I went to America for one year, but I didn’t speak English very much. 

Justin: What made you interested in studying in the US?

Yuka: In junior high and high school my only interest was in English and music. I had a good teacher and I was thinking that if I could learn English that I’d be able to study or work abroad; or even – 

[Luis laughs]

Luis: Sorry, I was thinking of why I learned English – it was because there were so many nice English speaking girls.

[laughter]

Yuka: Yeah – I was also thinking maybe I can date or even marry. If it doesn't have to be a Japanese speaker then...

Luis: It increases the market.

[laughter]

Yuka: After studying abroad I had a consulting job for three years but it wasn’t really for me. So I went to London to learn about fashion and sustainability, and then came back to Japan to start my own brand which I had for eight years. I just closed it last year.

yuka-1

Justin: Luis, where did you grow up?

Luis: I was born in Salamanca, a small town in Spain. It has a very beautiful, old university like Cambridge in England. Many people from abroad come there, but people from there don't go abroad. But I always dreamed about going to the big city, so I studied in Madrid for two years. 

After that, I wanted to go abroad so I moved to Amsterdam and I became a graphic designer. I did that for 20 years and then my dad died, mainly because of burnout. He worked too much. And I thought I was doing the same. I look a lot like my dad. So I took three months off to come here to Japan. I loved it immediately. I thought, I have to come back. Three months is too little.

Justin: So how did you make your way back?

Luis: I would offer work in exchange for a plane ticket or an apartment in Japan. I did that for four years, but after that I thought I really need to live here. So I came back to live for a year at first -- that was the plan -- but after six months I thought, I’m not going back to Amsterdam, I will stay. It was a big decision because I had my company, my clients, my family. Everything. But that’s what I did, it’s been six years since. And two years ago I met this amazing girl!

luis-1

Justin: How did you meet?

Luis: I met her at a book presentation – my friend had designed the book and Yuka’s friend had produced it. So I saw her at the party, and she looked amazing. I thought holy shit, she must be like a model or something. All of a sudden Yuka’s sister comes up to me – I actually knew her from AirBnb Experiences – and she says “Hi Luis! Remember me? This is my sister.”

Yuka kept looking at me because I was drawing and she said something like “oh I really like your drawings, would you like to draw for my fashion brand?” And I was like “yeah, I’d love to!”

Yuka: So I hired him. 

[laughter]

Luis: And we started working together.

Yuka: But I haven’t paid yet, no?

Luis: Actually!

[laughter]

luis-yuka-3

Justin: Yuka, what do you remember about the first time you met Luis?

Yuka: A couple of months before we met at the party, my sister and Luis met at the AirBnB meeting. She came back home and showed me his Instagram and I still remember this drawing of a tiger on a pink background. So that was my first –

Luis: Did you check my profile to see what I looked like?

Yuka: No, I didn’t.

Luis: So I hooked you by my art! That’s kind of interesting.

Yuka: The pink tiger.

Luis: I’m glad I did that one. It was like a ten minute drawing, honestly.

Yuka: It was for someone, no?

Luis: No, no. I just did it for myself. I wanted to draw a tiger.

Yuka: That was the first thing I remember about you. And then I met him at the party. I thought he was a nice guy, but I had a bit of an unfortunate dating history back then so I thought he must be married or gay.

[laughter]

But I really liked his drawings and the fact that he was drawing at an event was, you know, like it’s kind of a spontaneous thing. Such a creative thing to do. Just pen and paper. Not digital. And then he drew me --

Luis: Ready badly. It was such a shit drawing. 

Justin: The pressure!

Luis: Yeah! Because she was so beautiful! She wore this green raincoat, she looked so fucking amazing.

yuka-2

Yuka: I think because he’s Spanish, his expression is very friendly. So we were exchanging messages because I wanted the drawing that he made of me and he sent a heart. And I was like, a heart…

[laughter]

Yuka: You wouldn’t do that with Japanese people with someone you just met. But he’s charming. It was good timing, too because I was thinking about doing t-shirts for my fashion brand. I didn’t know how expensive he was but I thought let’s just talk to him.

Luis: So we made a meeting, but when I get there I couldn’t do it. I was in a shared office with coworkers, and I thought they would notice that I liked her. I thought you would also notice.

Yuka: No...I was only thinking of money.

[laughter]

Luis: I said “don’t worry about the money, let's do another meeting” because I wanted to meet her alone.

Yuka: I thought shit, this guy's gonna charge a lot of money. He was in a very nice office with a big chandelier. And I almost felt a bit embarrassed, like how small my brand was. I thought maybe I shouldn’t be here. 

Justin: Yeah...

Yuka: But the thing is, I think he fell in love or was on the edge of falling in love before I was. And in the end he kind of pulled me in.

luis-yuka-3

Luis: I think with my gut. At the time I had a girlfriend but it wasn’t going very well. And I saw Yuka and thought, this is the kind of girl I would like – intelligent, she has her own brand. So I made another couple of appointments to brainstorm –

Yuka: In the park, at a cafe.

Luis: On the third date I told her, "I want to be honest: although I have a girlfriend, I really like you. Between me and my girlfriend things aren’t going very well, so I would like to know if you'd have any interest in me." And she said --

Yuka: It's not a no.

[laughter]

Luis: It means a possibility, right! So I broke up with my girlfriend and a couple of weeks later I rented an apartment, and the next day she moved in and never left. I was very happy with her moving in because I wanted to be with her. And the rest is history. We haven't been separated even for two days since then? We’re always together.

Yuka: Yeah. We work together. We live together. 

Luis: Together we have a cat. And a baby now.

yuka-luis-4

Justin: What role has family played in your relationship?

 Yuka: My family knew I was always going out of Japan and sometimes dating non-Japanese, so they anticipated that Yuka might bring home some foreigner.

[laughter]

Yuka: Luis is so good at communication, even though he’s not super fluent in Japanese, somehow he just makes it happen.  

Luis: I met her mom at the very beginning when we did this collection of t-shirts and a party at Yuka’s shop. So I had to give a good impression, I was trying to score points because I was hoping one day she’d be my mother-in-law. Her mom is amazing and she spoke quite good English. So that went well.

But then one day Yuka says “you have to meet my dad.” So we went to a restaurant for dinner, and that's where I was supposed to ask for her hand. Which for me, is like, you know, I've only seen it in old American movies or something. But I had to do that in the official way. So we took them to the restaurant –

Yuka: No, first we bought your jacket.

[laughter]  

Luis: And we made a plan for Yuka’s sister to translate for me. I was so fucking nervous. But I was very serious and very respectful about it because I’m not in my country. So I said, “listen, I’m 16 years older, I have a son already, I have a history. And maybe you don’t want that for your daughter. So I’d understand if you said no.” If he had said “no, I prefer my daughter to be married to someone else” then that would be it. So I was very, very nervous. 

I remember saying these things and her sister was translating, but her sister started crying and crying. She couldn’t be the translator! And her mom was also crying. And her dad was like “yeah, yeah it’s fine.”

Yuka: It all worked out good.

yuka-luis-4

Justin: When do you experience your cultural differences the most?  

Luis: We get confronted with that everyday. You know when I’m in a down feeling, I think why is she so quiet, or why doesn’t she ask me more, or why is she so distant? But I tell myself no, you have to understand that she’s Japanese. Even though her English is perfect and her Spanish is really good, she’s still Japanese. But yeah, that's the only moment.

Yuka: He shows so much affection in public, which is not really my thing. I do it now, but we kind of compromise by meeting in the middle. You know, in the train he’s like ohh mi amor, and kisses me in front of older people and salarymen.

[Luis giggles]

Luis: She’s always pushing me to take it easy. I’m sorry -- I see her and think oh she’s the love of my life, and I want to hug and kiss her.

Yuka: You can do it at home, but…

[laughter]

yuka-luis-5

Yuka: There are difficult things, sure, but I think the good thing is that it really adds layers to my life.

All these differences that we’re forced to realize once in awhile, it really makes me think oh, I’m thinking like this because I’m Japanese. You become really aware of your own culture through their culture.

Luis: Yeah, through the confrontation. 

Yuka: Mixing cultures is hard but it’s still difficult to understand another person, wherever they’re from. Cultural context is a part of it, but you can understand it if you try. It’s the little things. Like in Japan we’re obsessed with washing hands once you get home from being outside. I thought if you don’t do it, then you’re fucked. You’ll be covered in viruses! 

[laughter]

But recently I found out that in Spain they don’t wash their hands after being outside. I thought oh shit, the whole country! – but they’re as healthy as we are! What have we been doing this for? There's just little things that go into daily lives.

yuka-luis-6

Luis: You know, you realize that even more when you have kids. So I look forward to seeing our new child and how she is gonna behave, and learn that the world is not a border. You have to accept everyone as they are and respect them. Japanese live like this, so when you are in Japan, you should behave like that

I think that's very important and very much against racism and borders. I don’t understand borders. So yeah, I think it's interesting and beautiful to see how our children will be.

Life is a cocktail! It’s not gin or Coke. It’s a mix. Gin, Coke, and pineapple. It’s nice, it’s beautiful. We should embrace this because the world is so small after all.

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