Today we are honored to be speaking with Azzy, Japanese, and Ahmed, Afro-Cuban, who currently live in Japan. Azzy is the creator of the YouTube channel, PlayThisLife Azusa, and the blog, Japonesa y Cubano (which is written in Japanese). Azzy and Ahmed were just married at the beginning of March 2016 and we are very happy for them!
ABC: Azzy and Ahmed, thank you for spending a few minutes with us. We are excited to learn more about your story. So first tell us about your backgrounds and how you guys met?
Azzy: Hi! Thanks for having us! I’m Azusa, aka Azzy, from Japan and I created the YouTube channel, Playthislife Azusa. My husband, Ahmed is from Havana, Cuba. We met in Havana while I was traveling there alone in the end of October, 2013. I was in Havana my first time for 3 weeks and I met Ahmed during that visit. Then I went back to Cuba a second time to spend more time with Ahmed and get to know his family for 10 days around the New Year’s holiday. At that time I was working and living in Cancun, Mexico, so it was easy to travel to Havana. So we were together for only 1 month in total before Ahmed came to Japan in November, 2014. It may sound a little crazy. (LOL)
Ahmed: When I first met Azzy, I was working as a salsa dance and conga teacher while I was also studying law at Havana University to become a licensed lawyer. At my music and dance school, there were always lots of foreign students and Azusa was one of them when she came there to learn salsa. The first time I saw her, I didn’t think she was 100% Asian, but well, she was. (LOL) We really got along well since that first day and we started to grow closer more and more day by day.
ABC: That’s great! So how do each of you describe your ethnicity?
Azzy: I’m 100% Japanese born with a Japanese mom and dad.
Ahmed: I’m 100% Cuban with a mix of Spanish, African, and Chinese blood. You know, many Cuban people, let me say, like over 80% of them are ethnically mixed. In particular, my mother is mulata with both Spanish and African descent, and from my father’s side, I have African, Spanish and Chinese blood. My great-grandfather is the only Chinese person in my family.
ABC: So when you both first met at salsa in Cuba, what attracted you to each other initially?
Azzy: When I first saw him, I was attracted not only by his looks but also the way he acted and talked. When he first came to me and started chatting, he was very respectful. He looked so relaxed and comfy, but he was still such a fun person to chat with. Honestly his laugh attracted me so much. Also he looked like he had a big heart and was smart, yet not self-important at all, so he made a great first impression on me!
Ahmed: Hmm.. her butt! Lol Just kidding, I just thought she was beautiful and interesting, so I went to talk to her. She was kind of mysterious to me while talking because although she was laughing and having fun with the conversation, she looked a little serious and maybe like a difficult person. But she looked intelligent too, so that actually interested me more.
ABC: Great story! (LOL) So after you met in Cuba, sounds like you were in a long distance relationship for awhile? How did you deal with the long distance?
Azzy: Yes, we had a long distance relationship between Havana and Japan for 11 months before Ahmed came to Japan. It was a little hard since he did not have a great internet connection in Cuba back then, so we had to communicate via phone call or email. We couldn’t use Skype, Facebook, or any communication apps! (LOL) Sometimes I paid like $300 for my monthly cell phone bill (LOL) But the whole time we were apart, I didn’t have any doubt of my feelings and I was certain that I could easily wait for the next time we would meet in person.
Ahmed: The long distance was a little hard because we missed each other a lot. Generally speaking, in Latin countries or culture, many times lengthy long-distance relationships tend to end up not working out. I have seen a lot of those cases in my country. So at the beginning, I had doubts if we could make it through long distance, but I just decided that I wanted to give my faith and love as long as Azusa did. And yeah, we made it through the trying time.
ABC: It looks like you both are tri-lingual – Spanish, Japanese, and English. Did you both know all three languages before the relationship or have you been learning them along the way? Has language ever been an issue for your relationship?
Ahmed: I speak Spanish as my native tongue, also French and some English, and now I am learning Japanese. With French, I have always loved how it sounds and I was interested in French culture so I took classes in the university. I also took French lessons at Alliance Française, which is a French cultural center inside the French embassy in Havana where they offer free lessons. Also I used to teach salsa and conga to people from France, Switzerland, and other French speaking areas, so that allowed me great practice of my French. I speak some English just because I love movies so much and I naturally began to understand English watching them little by little. I definitely have felt that language has been an issue between us, especially when we’re discussing or fighting (LOL). Most of the time, Azzy and I are speaking in Spanish, but using a non-native language can be a cause of misunderstanding and misinterpretation that can trigger fights and arguments, you know. (LOL)
Azzy: I speak Japanese, English and Spanish. I lived in Barcelona when I was 17 to 18 years old so I learned basic Spanish there which was super great for me because without that experience, I might not have been able to communicate enough with Ahmed now! With English, I have always seen movies and listened to music in English, so naturally I learned some English. Afterwards in university, I was sent to NY as an exchange student at the City University of New York, so my English got a little better there.
Ahmed and I use Spanish as our main language and unfortunately my Spanish level still is not fluent, but I haven’t felt that language has been that big of an issue for our relationship, even if there are moments that we don’t understand each other well. During those times, I simply ask him, or look up the words I don’t know in the dictionary, and that works ok normally. So when we fight, I think there must be another reason other than just a language barrier. (LOL) But overall, Ahmed and I mostly share the same values, patterns of thinking, views of life and many other important things that allow people to share their lives with someone. That has helped us a lot during our relationship to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings.
ABC: Do you guys have an official start date for your relationship or did it just happen? How long have you been dating now?
Azzy: I think so, yes. To me, it was our first time going out, which was the 3rd day after we met for the 1st time. I remember we went to dance salsa at the Hotel Florida in Havana. The hotel has a lounge/bar/club kind of place on the ground floor which often throws a salsa party. Ahmed had asked me out the day before and we went out on the Tuesday night. Wow, I remember too many details (LOL) We’ve been together for about over 2 years and 3 months now.
Ahmed: No, it just happened I think. (LOL) Our first time going out surely was what Azusa mentioned, but in my opinion at that time we were still just getting to know each other and things weren’t getting serious at that time. (LOL) Yes, we’ve been together for over 2 years since then.
ABC: How long were you engaged before your recent marriage? Tell us about the engagement.
Azzy: Hmm I don’t know exactly how long we were “engaged”, because there was not like an official dramatic and planned engagement “moment”. But I think we can say that we were practically engaged because we talked many times about getting married and had planned a marriage for a long time since when Ahmed was still in Cuba.
But, if I could tell you “the engagement moment” story, maybe that was the day Ahmed arrived in Tokyo from Havana. We were caught by a TV crew at the airport, and the TV crew was shooting stories about foreigners who went to Japan and tried Japanese food for the first time. They wanted to shoot Ahmed’s experience, so we went to a ramen restaurant “Ippudo”, which by the way also has chains in the US too. There we ate ramen in front of the camera, a first time for Ahmed, and he actually kneeled, I mean at the ramen restaurant, in front of the camera. (LOL) Then he asked me if I wanted to marry him and I immediately said yes! Hahaha. Then we ended up kissing in front of camera. (LOL) So that was one of the most unexpected, funny and happy moments in my life and in our relationship history!
We now are officially married (hahaha) but all I felt was “Wow, this whole marriage documentation process is so complicated!!!” (LOL). So the engagement period felt more clerical and not as romantic and peaceful, but we’re so happy for our marriage after such a long time!
Ahmed: That’s vague and hard to answer exactly when or what moment we were engaged. Because we have been imaging our future for a long time since about right after we first met. If you’re not serious about your future and love, how can you invite your partner to another country and plan where you are gonna settle and have a family and everything (LOL). We have been discussing marriage since I still was in Cuba as Azusa said. From the moment I moved to Japan, we started heading in the direction to settle down and spend our lives together more seriously – well at least if nothing tragic happened (LOL). I think Azusa has been more trustful and optimistic about our relationship and my love. I have sometimes been unsure and worried if she’s certain that she’s staying with me for her whole life (LOL). But Azusa has always been positive about our relationship, and her future with me. I have always thought that I wanted to marry the most beautiful woman I ever knew, so it looks like my dream came true (LOL).
ABC: What qualities do you admire most about each other? What keeps your relationship strong?
Azzy: I admire lots of qualities about Ahmed but one of the main things is that Ahmed is just a genuine and an honest person. He’s fair to everyone. He’s just a natural and he is kind to everyone. Other than that, similar to many Latin people I have met, Ahmed is such a loving and passionate man which surely helps our relationship stay strong and fresh. Oh, and he’s such a patient person! I really respect and appreciate that since I’m not! If he wasn’t patient, I don’t think we would have made it to today!
Ahmed: I admire Azusa’s positivity and self-confidence. Well, she’s not 24/7 happy and positive – but no human being is – but she is such a confident person about herself even if she’s in a bad mood! I think that is a pretty good and important quality to have in your life, and I’ve been inspired by that.
ABC: How do both of your parents and families feel about your relationship? How do you deal with any family members that may struggle with your relationship?
Azzy: Fortunately, my parents and other family members LOVE Ahmed including my grandparents! hehe. I guess one of the reasons why they love and accept him rather easily is because Ahmed not only naturally has the ways of thinking and sense of values similar to the Japanese culture, but also his mentality is flexible enough to adapt, respect and learn new cultures. Plus he acts super respectful to them. Other than that, my Japanese family sometimes tends to lack physical contact or interchange of love and feelings in everyday life, but Ahmed totally gets rid of these problems by blowing his loving Latino breeze into our family (lol). So the relationship with Ahmed is working well for my family.
With Ahmed’s family, wow, they’re so sweet and accepting of me so much, although I want to spend more time with them. Especially his mom, she treats me just like her real daughter and I talk to her like once every 2 days. They’re supportive to us and I’m so grateful. I think this is the best part about Latin family – they are so unconditionally loving.
Ahmed: My parents and other family members easily accepted Azusa and really love her, but since she was in Havana for just a month, my family still hasn’t gotten to know her very well, you know. But my family basically doesn’t interfere with my life and it’s usual for them to just let me do things the way I like, because I think they believe in me, so this time was like that too. Talking about her family, yes they accept me as well and I’ve never felt like I was deprecated or disliked in any way. They are very open-hearted and talk to me a lot, and they try hard to understand me, even if sometimes the language barrier is a little hard, so I really feel grateful and lucky for that.
ABC: That’s really great that both set of parents are so accepting! Do you guys plan to settle long term in Japan? How often do you guys visit Cuba?
Azzy: We’re currently in Japan, but it’s not our final destination. It’s just a hop to where we would like to settle down which is Canada. One of the reasons why we are choosing to move to Canada is that we want to build a life together in a multicultural place which gives us lots of opportunity to speak either Spanish or French due to consideration for Ahmed’s career as a future breadwinner. Ahmed’s a lawyer in Cuba and he loves to work in that field, but if we’re based in Japan, obviously it would be hard for him to work as a lawyer because of the language issue. So we started to think of moving to other countries away from our native countries and we thought the Quebec state in Canada was a good place since both of us have a positive image of Canada.
Until we could move to Canada, I invited him to come to Japan. I considered that before getting everything started in Canada, Ahmed should see and get used to a little bit of the life and ways of thinking in a “capitalist society”…because it’s SO different from the thinking in a socialist society like Cuba, which I experienced when I traveled there. Of course, I also wanted him to get to know my family and my culture. Since Ahmed came to Japan in 2013, we have not visited Cuba and he’s craving to go back there to see his family, so we might plan to go there before we ultimately move to Canada.
Ahmed: Azusa said everything. We thought Montreal would be a perfect place for us because in my opinion, they speak French which I love after my Spanish language. Also I can improve my English more there and it looks like a super interesting city to live in.
ABC: Azzy, Tell us more about your YouTube channel, “PlayThisLife Azusa”. What does the title mean?
Azzy: I always thought that watching the life of other countries or cities was very fun and interesting. Thus I thought that showing my current life in Fukuoka in Japan might be interesting to other people. So on my channel, I upload videos showing my daily life or travels inside and outside Japan to my audience, as well as style and fashion related videos because I love these topics. I also love showing the city or streets I visit, or the food I had, or other interesting information that I can share with people via my videos. This way, I feel like my experience isn’t only a personal fun memory anymore, but that it could also be helpful or inspiring to others via my videos. This is such a cool feeling! Also the videos on my channel sometimes help ME recall the lovely moments and learnings in my life.
The title “Playthislife Azusa” came from my kind of motto “play this life” which means that I really want to not only enjoy and have fun in my life, but also live life to the fullest giving my all. I used the word “play” because I thought it’s the most appropriate word to express what I mean. “Play” can mean various things, like if you say “kids are playing around”, it means kids are just having fun with no concern, no certain purposes. But in the case of a “sports player”, they may be enjoying playing, but they also are very serious, passionate and desperate for winning, which is almost the opposite of the previous meaning of “play”. So I think the word “play” resembles my philosophy about how I have both of these feelings about life, which is why I use it in the title. The other part of the title, “this life”, is because I’ve always felt like the lifetime is limited, and I believe in something like metapsychosis, so I put “this” in “Play this life”, instead of “my”. Lastly I added my name “Azusa” for people to notice that it’s me. hehe.
ABC: That’s very thoughtful! Many of your YouTube videos are about style or makeup or travel, but what’s your favorite video including both of you together?
Azzy: My favorite one is maybe the Universal Studio video (see above). Also I have been documenting the process of our international marriage, and so far I made 3 related videos with more to come. I also made videos in various cities or places in Japan from Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Hokkaido. Some of them featured traditional festivals or sightseeing spots so I really hope that my videos will be helpful and inspiring! 🙂
ABC: Who is your target audience for the channel? What do your viewer demographics look like so far?
Azzy: I didn’t think about the target audience when i started the channel. I just wanted to film what I was going through, what I experienced, or what I loved and what I thought. I just want my videos to be fun and interesting. It would be great if some of them are helpful and inspiring. According to the demographics of my channel, the viewers are 70% woman between the ages of 20s to 30s, and 30% men. Half English speakers and half Japanese speakers, with a little bit of Spanish speakers. Being multi-lingual also is an advantage about my videos.
ABC: Very cool. So for both of you, what comes next? For you as a couple and for your channel?
Azzy: On my channel, I’m going to keep making videos and talking to viewers like I have although I’d love to put out videos more often. While living in Japan, I’d like to make videos about Japanese culture, interesting food, and sightseeing places as much as possible. These days, my viewers are actually starting to talk to me on YouTube or my Instagram page (@playthislifeazusa), so I have more ways to know what they want to see. I definitely want to make my channel more active as well as my blog, which is written only in Japanese currently. As a couple, I really really hope that Ahmed can start studying in Montreal this year and I think he will make it!
Ahmed: I’m in the process of getting accepted by law school in Montreal right now so hopefully I’m flying to Montreal to get my study started in the summer of this year (2016). I think it’s going to be a good way for me to feel that I’m constructing something serious and meaningful for the future of my family. Azusa still is not sure if she’s going to Montreal at the exact same moment I’m going because of her work situation and stuff, but my plan about her is to keep giving her love like I have done to date (LOL).
ABC: That’s great! We wish you all the best with your plans and we’re sure that everything will work out well for both of you. Finally, what advice do you have for other Asian and Black couples or people considering an Asian and Black couple relationship?
Azzy: Well, it might not be advice for just an Asian and Black couple, but for general intercultural/international couples out there as well, as is our case. I think I can offer 2 things I learned to sustain our relationship as advice which are: 1. DON’T FORGET 2. STAY POSITIVE. Of course before reading the advice, you have to be sure that your relationship is true love, (LOL), and you’ve got to realize that you may often feel that intercultural/international situations often get more complicated than mono-national couples in many ways. Like for example we were in the process of getting married and WOW, that’s insane the amount of work we had to do, the amount of paperwork we had to prepare, and the total length of the time we talked with and wrote to officials (LOL) just to get married. So it can be a rough road, so you should be sure that above all, you still want to be with your partner!
1. DON’T FORGET. What I mean is that, especially in the complicated and hard times, you must not forget what a MIRACLE it is that you guys could meet and find each other even if you were born in another city in another country, maybe raised by totally different cultures and you guys are attracted to each other. Don’t forget how LUCKY you guys are to have found this person in each other’s lives. Don’t forget how many times you guys went through the trying time together, don’t forget the word you received and you said to your love, and don’t forget WHY you had a crush on him/her when you first saw your love or you were getting to know him/her. DON’T FORGET the smell of the place and the feel of the breezes you were receiving on your face when you guys first met. I think not forgetting these little beautiful moments/factors and recalling them really works for staying grateful and fresh with your partner. That’s one of the reasons why I love making videos and publishing them on my channel.
2. STAY POSITIVE. I know sometimes it’s hard. It’s hard for everyone. But sometimes international couples can get really stressed out over the marriage issue, the immigration and visa issue, the documents, work, cultural differences, family problems… etc. It can drive you crazy. We have experienced some of that. Sometimes we fought and slept without talking, and sometimes we both yelled and cried it out. However, if you both still wanna stay together and carry on, at least one of you has got to get up and give positivity to the other. I think Ahmed and I have been like that where we both had the hurtful moments and we felt like, “How the hell we can keep going on like this? With all these situations?”. Then always one of us would get up first and try to lift the other one up. Sometimes I did, and sometimes Ahmed did. That’s how we came this far. Positivity is such an important and crucial factor if you are in these uneasy situations.
Ok, the last extra little tip is DO NOT quit trying to attract your partner as a lover! So, don’t be your lover’s parent, friend, or sibling too much, but rather stay like your partner’s lover which I’m sure will make your relationship fresher (smiles)!
Ahmed: Well, I think people in intercultural relationships or those who want to be in one have to realize that you must establish excellent communication methods with your partner. I think good communication will be something crucial and the key to intercultural and international couples much more so than mono-national/mono-cultural couples. It’s necessary to really understand the habits, cultures, background, and language of your partner as much as possible!
ABC: Great advice! We love your story and we know that your story will help many Asian and Black couples and international / intercultural couples. We thank you so much for sharing your story with us!
We are also very excited for your recent marriage and we look forward to all of your future adventures together as a married couple! May life bring you both much happiness and joy for this lifetime and beyond!!