An Eternal Triangle? Love in Barcelona


Subaru, Ai and Echevarria at Barcelona, Spain

TOKYO (majirox news) – A Japanese woman relinquished custody of her 2-year-son, Subaru, to his Spanish father in Tokyo. Ai, along with her parents, signed papers February 2011 giving sole guardianship to her husband, Javier Garcia Echevarria.

In the document, they (Ai and her parents) also admitted they had libeled Echevarria, accusing him of physically and mentally abusing Ai and Subaru.

It’s rare for a foreigner, especially a male, to receive guardianship. However, this is an unusual story.

Sitting together with Subaru in their immaculate apartment in the city of Yokohama, which neighbors Tokyo, the couple talked about custody and about their endless separations and reconciliations.

Ai, an only child, said it was hard for her to go against her parents’ wishes. “My parents were unhappy that I was with Echevarria.”

Custody for their Son
The battle for Subaru began when Ai returned to Tokyo with him a year ago under the pretext of taking care of her sickly mother Previously, they had lived in Echevarria’s native Barcelona, Spain, where Echevarria worked as a practitioner of osteopathic medicine. They had lived here since they were married three years ago.

Ai phoned Echevarria a week after returning to Japan, saying that she wanted a divorce and wouldn’t permit him to see their son again.

“She said ‘You are like a bird, and I am like a fish, and a bird and a fish cannot be together,’” he said. “Ai told me that she didn’t want me to come to Japan or to see Subaru. Then she asked me for a divorce.”

This hit Echevarria doubly hard because he grew up without a father and didn’t want his son to grow up without him. “I saw my father assassinated in front of our house in Bilbao, Spain, when I was 6 years old. The Basque killed him because he was a policeman.”

Echevarria’s international lawyer urged him not to fight but rather sign the divorce papers.

“The lawyer said that Japan doesn’t respect foreigners’ rights, even when an issue involves the kidnapping of children, and that I didn’t have any other options,” Echevarria said. “He told me to give them whatever they wanted.”

(Japan is currently not a member of the Hague Convention, which defines legal arrangements for custody disputes between couples of different nationalities, and aimed at preventing child abduction. Japan announced that it plans to sign the international treaty at he upcoming G8 meeting. However, it could take years before the law is actually implemented.)

This did not deter Echevarria, as he was determined to see his son. He left for Tokyo in August 2010, after selling his house and health clinic.

The First Meeting

The couple had met five years earlier in Egypt, when Ai was 25 years old and Echevarria was 30.

“When I met Ai, she seemed understanding and adventurous,” he said. “I believed she had the same goals as I had.”

Ai, who worked in social welfare, said that Echevarria was outgoing and knew exactly what he wanted in life. “I was lost and wanted to marry him because of that.”

After leaving Egypt, they continued their relationship by communicating through the Internet. He even proposed online.

“We saw each twice before we got married,” Echevarria said. “She came to Spain for two days, and then I went to Japan for 10 days for her birthday, then we married a year and a half later in September 2007.”

Echevarria, Subaru and Ai in Barcelona, Spain

They settled in Barcelona, but Ai had difficulties adjusting to the culture.

She said, “I couldn’t adapt there and felt like I was totally alone. “I was frustrated, and I went through periods of screaming and physically attacking Echevarria.”

She added that she envied Echevarria and his friends, their openness,as she felt unable to express her feelings.

“I wanted to go back home,” she said. “I was crying in front of my parents on Skype and told them that I was depressed.” When her parents asked her to return to Japan, she went.

Echevarria said their problems stemmed from her parents,who kept trying to control Ai’s life.

“They told her that I was abusive; they started putting it into her head that I was aggressive and would hurt her and Subaru.”

Back in Japan
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Echevarria, Ai had decided that she wanted to reconcile with him.

“She denied me the right to see my son and said she would send me the divorce papers and that I shouldn’t leave Spain,” he said. “But then she met me at the airport and said that she loved me and wanted to be with me. She even confessed that her parents had not been sick.”

Ai admitted that the problems in the marriage were her fault. “The longer I was alone, the more I realized that it was my parents’ influence that made me think everything was his fault.”

Things seemed fine, but then one week later, everything started to fall apart again. She wanted a divorce and threw him out.

“She didn’t want me to see my son again, either.”

The Turning Point

The notarized written testimony by Ai and her parents relinquishing custody of Subaru to Echevarria, which was submitted to court

Then three months later, when Ai’s father accidently burned Subaru with a pot of boiling water, which resulted in third-degree burns on the child, Ai called Echeverria for help. With his background he could treat Subaru.

This wasn’t the first incident; there had been other accidents. But this was the most dangerous one.

At this point, Echeverria was living in the office of an Italian restaurant in Tokyo while working as a waiter. He returned to Yokohama to help his son, and once again, he and Ai reconciled.

This time, however, it was different. Echeverria threatened to sue her and her parents for neglecting Subaru if they didn’t give him custody and admit to their libelous statements. They all agreed.

Ai has been going to therapy for the last five months. She admits that the problems in their marriage were her fault. “I can’t forgive myself for what I did; I behaved badly toward Echeverria and Subaru.”

Many might wonder why Echeverria stays with his wife. “Because I love my wife, and she’s improved a lot these last few months,” he said. “And I love my son more than ever.”

He added that he’s made some mistakes, too, but said that it’s important to never forget what you did so that you won’t do it again.

“My biggest fear now is that my wife will start to listen to her parents again and won’t be strong enough to stay away from them.” Her parents have an apartment in the same building, although she doesn’t see them.

It’s been only a few months since they have been back together. It’s still too early to know whether Ai and Echeverria will stay together.

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7 Responses to An Eternal Triangle? Love in Barcelona

  1. Brian Cohen on 05/28/2011 at 5:17 pm

    Great story!
    Congratulations to the couple on reuniting and working on their relationship. I hope it works out for them and pray that this gives Subaru a positive, loving environment.
    It’s hard to agree with Echeverria wanting Ai to stay away from her parents, especially as he loves his son because he grew up without a father. Why deprive his wife of her parents? Even if the relationship is toxic, I think it’s important for their family to be able to work together with her parents to create a more positive relationship.
    Anyway, good luck to Echeverria, Ai and Subaru.

  2. Aki on 05/28/2011 at 7:56 pm

    International marriage needs a lot of work because of their different customs and backgrounds. Their case is more than that, though. Although she might need more, it seems to me that both of them need professional counseling to make it work. I wish they could spend and stay happy especially for their child’s sake.

  3. Casper on 05/29/2011 at 2:04 am

    Glad that they are together again! Although they might not see themselves as “different” from a lot of other families – in Japan, they are. There are a lot of Japanese that are afraid of foreigners just because they are “foreign.” Echeverria and Ai have to work together as a COUPLE, especially when there is a child involved, Subaru.

    Problem with Ai, is that she seems to tell her parents EVERYTHING, and that includes when she was feeling lonely and depressed while she was living overseas. And, all her parents see is that their daughter was in a “foreign” country, lonely and unhappy. Ai’s parents are like MOST parents, if their child is in a foreign country and unhappy, of course they are going to tell you to come home!

    What Ai needs to do is talk to Echeverria or a good friend regarding any problems or difficulties that arise, not her parents. A friend will have her best interest at heart and things that she talks about can easily be forgotten (this is a good thing). Where if Ai tells her parents her problems or difficulties, they just add it onto the list of things that she has already told them about her life with Echeverria (the frustration/complaints list pile up against him). Parents remember EVERYTHING you tell them regarding your relationship with your spouse, especially the negative things!

    For Echeverria to be “accepted” by Ai’s family, they have to show the family that they are happy together. Once the family sees how much they love each other and Subaru, they should “accept” Echeverria into their family.

    Echeverria and Ai need to have a “heart-to-heart” talk with Ai’s parents. They need to “clear the air” between them. If they just avoid each other (especially when they live in the same building!), they will become more distant and Ai’s parents will resent him even more.

    They should invite her parents over for dinner, to begin with at least once or twice a month. Once Ai’s parents see that their daughter and her family are happy, things will get better!

    Hope that they work things out!

  4. mr bond on 05/31/2011 at 5:58 pm

    My question: are Ai and Echeverria happy, having their story splashed on the Internet? I guess so, otherwise they would never have agreed to be interviewed. Their turbulent relationship has been spelled out in a very gentle way. So, Congrats to Catherine on a fine piece of reporting.

  5. Miki on 05/31/2011 at 9:27 pm

    Ai, Echeverria and Subaru, it is a nice to hear that you are trying to work your problems out, congratulation to both of you.
    Especially Echeverria because he decided to visit Japan, despite the situation, to see his son.
    I hope her parents don’t destroy your life.
    Nice story….felt good about it, after I read this.

  6. jonjon on 11/14/2011 at 1:46 pm

    I feel REALLY sorry for this guy, but I guess his love is blind. He went from being a doctor in Spain with his own house and clinic to sleeping in a restaurant and working as a waiter in Tokyo. Typical; because Tokyo marginalizes skilled foreigners into doing these crappy jobs, but I digress.

    The wife was completely unequipped and waaay too homely and sheltered to live outside Japan; I blame her entirely for her naivity and her seeming inability to be independent of her parents. Read what she says “I was lost…thats why I married him!”. And only when her seemingly geriatric father burns the kid badly, well THEN of course they need the gaijin doctor!
    Its all about FUNCTIONAL needs for this close knit J family. They re being nice to the gaijin because they currently need him to treat Subaru`s burns. This could be a page out of Debito`s novel “In appropriate”, the sad part is, this is real life, not fiction.

    And this part is complete bull- “Her parents have an apartment in the same building, although she doesn’t see them.”

    Yeah right. Why not move further away then? That would help.

    I fear for this guy. He may end up another foreign guy who lost everything to Japan and whose only mistake was to fall in love with a woman who is completely in thrall of the extreme Neo Confucianist pressure that is family in Japan.

    That, and Japan`s governement`s reluctance to implement the Hague Convention against child abductions. Until they do, GOJ criticism of North Korean abductions of Japanese people is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black.

  7. jonjon on 11/15/2011 at 12:24 pm

    I am just glad he won custody. Amazing the parents and Ai admitted to libelling him (usually the tatemae wouldve kicked in here and they would have deined everything).

    A rare gaijin victory. Wonders never cease.

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