Tomo Maekawa is looking for a fiancée.
Maekawa, a 28-year-old from Hiroshima, Japan, came
to Italy to study the Italian language and to further
his love of soccer in hopes of becoming professional.
But really, he came to Cagli, a small town of about
10,000 people in Le Marche region, to meet a girl.
“I want an Italian woman because they are beautiful,”
Before traveling to Italy, Maekawa ended his engagement
in Japan, leaving at home a heartbroken woman. But he
had new hopes of meeting his future bella donna.
In Cagli, where he arrived in December 2004, Maekawa
has felt a clash of cultures: the only Japanese man
to currently studying at the Atrium, an Italian language
and culture institute.
Just another day in the
life of Tomo.
After six months in Cagli, he finds himself having
a similar lifestyle here as he did in Japan.
“I have always lived alone, so my lifestyle in
the house isn’t that different from what I have
been used to for the past 15 years,” he chuckled.
“The food is very different, but Japanese people
like Italian food.”
Maekawa has two younger brothers. One is an English
and math teacher, and the other studies English in the
morning and works as a waiter in a casino at night.
Although his brother was an English teacher, Tomo didn’t
want to learn the English language.
“I have never bothered to learn the English language
because I think it is ugly,” Maekawa said.
While he is here studying, he takes his time and relaxes.
After he eats, he takes a nap. In Japan when he worked,
he couldn’t do that.
Tomo bonds with some Cagliese
while working up a sweat.
Not only does Maekawa take classes, but he also has joined
two soccer leagues in town. He plays at night with the locals
in town on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
“I want to go pro, but I know that my time has run
out because I am getting too old,” Maekawa said. “I
collect soccer jerseys and I traveled all the way to Parma
to get my jersey signed by Gilardino. It is my most prized
He owns seven different jerseys from different Italian teams
— none of which come at a small cost. He has two favorite
Italian teams: Milano and Parma. The jersey that was signed
by Gilardino, currently considered the best young Italian
soccer player, would be a prize for nearly any Italian.
Playing soccer has enabled Maekawa to make friends.
Marco Mezzolani and his brother Roberto, soccer players who
work at the weekly market, have tried to help Maekawa meet
“I know that Tomo has met Marco’s friends that
are girls,” Colonelli said. “But he has no stories
with Italian girls being his girlfriends. For now they are
all his friends.”
Tomo studies Italian in the
Because he comes from a place where Latin is not
the root of his language, he found it hard at first
to adjust. With no knowledge of Italian and speaking
only a few words of English, he has had to learn in
a classroom where only Italian is spoken.
At the Atrium, where students come from around the
world, the only common language is Italian.
“I chose to go to school in Cagli because it
is a small town that is not popular among the Japanese,”
he said. “If I went there with other Japanese
people, I would end up speaking Japanese, and that
wouldn’t help me learn or exercise my Italian.”
Despite living in a small town where he is among
the minority, Maekawa has been welcomed by all of
“It took three months to make friends, but
now I hang out with people in Cagli,” Maekawa
said in Italian. “It was not that hard an adjustment
because the townspeople were always very nice, fun
to be with and happy to have me.”
Tomo takes a picture to remember
his time in Cagli.
He acknowledged the fact that things might be different
in Japan because he was a working man, whereas in Cagli
he is a full-time student. In Japan he worked in the car
industry with all of the big car brands.
Maekawa starts out his day by studying in the Atrium. He
has language courses every morning for three hours. Twice
a week he has a class in guided conversation for another
two hours in the afternoon.
“I like Tomo very much,” said Maria Rita Colonelli,
his professor at the Atrium. “He is very nice and
always jokes in the morning. He likes to make conversation
and often speaks about his life. I am not his teacher, and
he is not the student: we are friends.”
For all of his courses, Maekawa comes fully equipped with
his Japanese-Italian computerized translator.
“It was very difficult to learn the alphabet because
in Japan every sign is a syllable, and the grammar is also
very different,” Maekawa said.
Tomo shows off the skills
he hopes will help him go pro.
“I have not found any girls to date,” Maekawa
admitted, “only friends.”
Maekawa knows that he is going to end up in Japan where
he will focus on finding a job. But he plans to travel to
Italy frequently. If he finds a girl in Italy, he has said
that there is a 50 percent chance that he will stay here.
“There are positives and negatives between the countries,”
he said. “In Italy everything is more relaxed, where
in Japan there is a strict schedule.”He is still in
search of his fiancée that he can travel the country
with, one he can possibly take back to Japan.
“For now I am Italian,” he laughed, “so
I am looking for an Italian woman.”
Story by Christen Grasso
Pictures by Maggie Mednikoff
Video by Charles Duva
Web Design by Annie Curran