A lot of hubbub followed the news of Filipino actor and chef Jose Sarasola dating Japanese ex-adult actress and now-businesswoman Maria Ozawa since early last year. It made sense at first, though—who would think an international star (who only flew to Manila for business then) would find love right in the arms of a Pinoy? Given Maria’s past, the hubbub unfortunately swelled with a little mockery as their introduction as a legit couple crossed the public radar.
But it’s been almost a year since. Despite the bashing, the Fil-Jap connection between Jose and Maria has since proven to be more than tabloid news. Their love story became a testament of how differences in language, culture, and even controversial pasts stand no match to what the heart speaks. (Beaches, parks, international tourist spots, and even concerts have bore witness to it) We actually chatted them up about how they met and continue to grow as a couple, and if it’s not enough to leave with you doing a slow clap, we don’t know what will!
[related: Love Actually: The Fil-Jap Connection Between Jose Sarasola And Maria Ozawa]
What’s interesting about you is that you’re both businessmen.
Maria: I am a part owner of a lounge called La Maison, and it’s located at the Remington Hotel. I am there almost everyday. That’s my main job for now. When I came to the Philippines, it was my first time here and I didn’t know, like, anybody. But my manager back in the days knew people here and they’re like why don’t you try shooting a magazine, or do you want to be a model, and I’m like okay, okay, let’s do it! And then I didn’t see myself this far. But I have a bar in Japan. I used to own a beach house, too. So, yeah, the lounge thing isn’t my first time. But it is such a big thing to do here in the Philippines, but I’m happy that it’s going well. You have to be independent (as a businesswoman), so it’s kinda hard. And you have to make your own decision when it’s hard. But I think it makes yourself stronger, and that’s the best effect. I don’t know how to say this but I like working.”
Jose: I own a sports bar here in BF Homes, it’s called Avenue 75. We show a lot of sports, like mga NBA, and sometimes pay-per-view events like mga Pacquiao fights, or UFC, or even the World Cup. Which is every four years, so it’s pretty big. And then most of the time, the recipes there, all the food there are mine. It works well since I took up Culinary in college at Benilde, and I like sports. So parang the sports bar is a perfect combination for both my crafts.
Speaking of your bar, Jose, we hear it’s where you met, we heard!
M: Yeah, through a common friend. She actually used to work in my lounge.
J: Random lang, yeah!
M: Super random, and then she brought her friend, then we all went, “Oh, let’s go out and drink!”
M: No okay, but kasi I’ve never been at this side. So, she was asking me if I wanted to go to the other side and I was like yeah, adventure, go to different bars, and that’s how she took me to his bar. I used to party. Well, not like party, party, like go to a club and go crazy. I just enjoy drinking, and, yeah, the company, so I actually don’t go to parties and do crazy stuff—I rather go to a bar and a more quieter, and then drink a lot.
J: I think it was March (2016) then.
How was the encounter?
M: He was star struck, syempre! (Laughs)
J: I was not! Why would I be star struck! I knew that she was an international star, hindi naman sya local celebrity. I mean, I knew who she was but then I also have a lot of friends and there are a lot of artistas rin naman here in the Philippines. So if there’s another artista in the bar then fine, pero iba kung Maria Ozawa, eh. Syempre, I tried to be cool and I coy and not mind her too much. But when the night naman ended, I did ask for a picture. (Laughs) And then that started it off!
What were your first impressions of each other?
J: Well, the funny thing is we didn’t even talk that much the first night we met each other. Kasi we were—
M: Kasi we were in a group.
J: I didn’t wanna look like a fan boy, going down and offering anything in my bar. But it was more like we were in a group. She had her friends and that common friend who introduced us, and her friends. We were just a big group, and I sat in the same table as her but we didn’t talk that much. But, of course, we all know that she is beautiful naman so it’s not like she’d say anything good about me.
M: Well, actually, knowing him as a bar owner, his name is Jose, and I like drinking so I assumed that he was like a Jose Cuervo drink, right? (Laughs) Because when you go to his bar, there’s a big poster of tequila, Patron, so I was like, “Oh my God, this guy’s name is Jose! And he’s like wild, and he’s cute, and all that stuff!” So, yeah, but then he actually drinks whiskey, and then I’m a hard drinker. We had so much things in common and when we started talking, it was a series of “Oh, you too? You too?” I think that’s how we started to talk?
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When did the exchange of numbers happen?
M: He asked for my number!
J: ‘Cause she messaged me on Instagram the next week saying—
M: The following weekend, my friends from Japan were visiting at that time I only knew my area, Newport area and Makati area. Because my manager was overprotective, so I couldn’t go there alone and I couldn’t take them clubbing by myself. So I was thinking, “Oh, the bar that my friend took me! I should go there again!” And then I messaged him through Instagram.
J: (She asked) “Are you at the bar?”
M: I asked him if he was in the bar.
J: I actually wasn’t!
M: You were!
J: I actually wasn’t because I had a gig in Laguna, so I said maybe tomorrow would be better, so (I asked) “What’s your number?”
J: Then she came the next day with friends. Then that’s how it started. That’s when we started really talking compared to the week before that. I got to know her more that night.
B: And you were both single that time?
J: I’ve been single for a very long time…
M: Yes. Mr. Single.
So, you became together around February 2017 just in time for Valentine’s?
J: We’ve known each other since last year but it was only in March that we got together.
M: So, it took us a year to go official. I remember that it was so viral because it was Valentine’s Day and we were having dinner at Resort’s World. And then we took a picture and I posted it first and they were like, “OMG!” People flipped.
J: We were dating then. We were exclusively dating. When the year almost ended, like around October and November, we didn’t post stuff. Kasi alam mo naman, sa Philippines—
M: Yeah, he wouldn’t post because it was hard.
J: But Valentine’s was the perfect time. So, we started posting around Valentine’s.
What do you like about each other?
J: Well, for me kasi, I was pressured because she wasn’t the typical girl lang. She’s not even a Filipina. She’s someone who’s been all around the world especially in Asia and everywhere, so konting pressure din. But at the end of the day when you get to meet and talk to Maria, everything goes out of the window—what people think of her. She just sometimes gets the bad rep because of her past, but I always tell people that once they get to know her, you sit down and talk to her, all the thoughts that you’re thinking, will be gone because all that’s important is how she is as a person, eh. When you get to meet her, that’s the key to knowing what kind of person she really is—what really made me fall for her. Down to earth, eh.
J: Humble, nice to my friends and to my parents. What more can you ask for ‘pag ganun?
M: Thank you! (Laughs) Jose is cute! He is so handsome, my type! And he has a beard and everything! Plus, well, he’s fit, right? I love fit people so when I first saw him, or on our first date, I don’t really remember but he wore this T-shirt, it was super small, it looks small on him and I was like, “Ooh, he has muscles!” (Laughs) Nice! I do love sporty guys! And then he’s nice kind and I don’t know. Everything, I guess? Then like I said before, we have so many things in common so like especially I love eating. Like, different countries I would like eat different food all over the places. He does, too, and he loves Japanese food. So, that was a big thing for me because I’m from Japan and some people really cannot take Japanese food like raw stuff and seaweed and all. So when he told me he loves Japanese food, I was like, “Yes, I’ll take him to Japan!”
J: I actually said that, just for the day. (Laughs)
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How do you bond with the spotlight always on your tail?
Both: Wow, we go everywhere!
J: We go to Alabang, Makati, medyo not Quezon City. Resort’s World, Town Center, Commerce, all the restaurants we’ve probably tried it. Especially those in BF. Korean, Japanese, Italian, Thai—so everywhere talaga. Whatever is new, whatever we see.
M: We watch movies also. We’re both movie buffs. Whenever something comes up, we’ll go watch.
J: Any time a new movie comes on every Wednesday, we gotta watch!
Do you ever fight?
M: Hmm, not like a serious fight.
J: Petty fights.
M: Over such small stuff. I don’t even remember.
J: Too petty to even talk about.
M: But then I think that that’s a good thing also, because that means we are both speaking our minds, and he’s not like holding back, like I’m not holding back and then fighting like in couples is really important thing right, because…
J: It’s healthy.
M: Even if it’s annoying.
J: I don’t know about these Japanese girls, they’re supposed to be—the man’s supposed to be in charge but not this one though!
M: Ah, no, nope.
J: Not this one.
Apart from food and movies, what else do you talk about?
J: A lot of Youtube videos. Conspiracy theories.
M: I love conspiracy theories on history or really anything!
J: UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, time machine, time travel—lahat, we talk about anything talaga! We have the same vibe. She’s trying to get into basketball since I play basketball a lot. She’s very supportive. She always watches my games naman.
M: Cause he’s a really good player!
J: Thank you, but watching basketball, ibang usapan. PBA, NBA, medyo iba na. She’s not trying.
M: Ginebra. Go Ginebra!
When you came out as a couple, you met a lot of hate-rade online?
J: Obviously, yeah.
M: Well, not hate. They would say bastos to him. I got a little bit but compared to me, he got more because people were just so rude. “How could you date a girl who has been in the porn industry? Disgusting!” They will say so much stuff, they will try to—
J: Pull us apart.
J: Filipinos, you know, always being judgmental. It’s like as if Maria were a serial killer before.
M: I know right! They’re so mean!
J: What’s the big deal, di ba? But then at the start it was hard but as time went by, it started dying down. Supportive naman. There is still a once-in-a-blue-moon idiots, who message me bad stuff on Facebook and Instagram, or comment in our pictures. It’s kinda dying down, I think Pinoys are becoming more supportive of our relationship.
[related: In Focus: We're All 'Marupok' When It Comes To The Person We Like—Here Are 9 Signs You Can't Deny]
How did you first deal with it, the hate?
M: I’ve had bashers ever since I debuted (in my former industry), so it’s been 13 years. Whatever. Sometimes, I take bashers in a good way. They’re taking their damn time to comment something bad about you.
J: Keyboard warriors!
M: Yeah, that means they’re really into you and they support you. They’re just so stupid that they don’t realize that. ‘Cause they check every single picture, right? Back in the days if it was only me, I wouldn’t care. Bash whatever you want, I’m doing my business. It’s not like I’m going down, right? But then when it came to us, it became more harder to deal. I didn’t expect people to try to tear us apart. I would imagine people bashing him. I kind of had an idea right? But then I would never have thought that someone would try to break us apart. ‘Cause like that’s so mean, why would someone say that?
Jose, some guys think you’re a really “lucky guy…”
J: I just didn’t think it would take an international star for me to have a girlfriend.
M: Stop saying that!
J: You are!
M: But then you’ve dated artistas also.
J: Yeah, before, but, basta yun na yun! (Laughs) Point is, I didn’t really expect or was aiming for an artista to be my girlfriend. It just turned out she was the person who—
M: Changed your life? (Laughs)
J: I am answering my own questions here, please. (Laughs) But yeah, she did change my life, so yeah okay naman. I didn’t have plans of dating a celebrity or a big star pero it turned out that she was the one talaga.
M: Why? Why? Why? Can I ask? (Laughs) What made you want to go out? Like, the turning point?
J: Well I guess naman if you date someone you can tell right away what kind of attitude she has on life. But then she’s very positive, she’s down to earth, she’s humble. She’s nice to my family, my friends. So, what will you look for pa, di ba?
How did your families react to your relationship?
J: At the start, it was also hard. They were saying that my parents would faint, blah blah. People don’t know that my mom grew up in Canada. She studied an entire year and my dad is Spanish nga. So, very open minded ng family ko. Not like the typical Pinoy family—let’s be honest about it, if I were in a typical Pinoy family, I’m not degrading it. It’s just our custom that we’re laidback, we’re quiet, pero if they find out na I’m dating Maria Ozawa, and what she was before, it’s going be a big deal talaga. Not all, but like my parents won’t be like that and they’re very supportive. Especially my dad, even if there were some things said in the past by my parents, they will never take it against Maria. So, as I said, all in the past naman, eh. So, what she is now, how she treats my mom and dad and my other family members, that’s what counts naman talaga. They love her also! We always go out to family dinners also not just the two of us. Sometimes, we go out for Korean, Japanese, or steak also so it’s a family thing din. I mean if my parents did accept her, why will I worry about some guy messaging me some bad messages to me from Hongkong, Malaysia or Indonesia or Japan?
M: Or wherever, but some of the messages are targeted to the mom.
J: Yeah, that’s what pisses her off.
M: Yeah, super, why can’t you just text us or him? Or bash him or bash me? But then some people would text her through Facebook saying, “Did you know what she did in the past? Are you really okay for that?” But then she tells me everything about that also so she would text me saying, “Oh my God, darling, I just got this text.” I would be so stressed and I would cyber stalk him and would put him to hell.
J: But my mom is cool about it!
M: Of course.
Got plans of settling down soon?
M: Well, actually, when I first came here, I had no plans. I didn’t know what would work out. I didn’t know that I’d be this far. But then now that I’m this far. I just want to concentrate on my work first and then business, see how it goes with this mindset of staying here in the Philippines. I have my visa, I have my whatever cards. So, I can officially, I can stay here for good. So, I’ll just have to fix things up.
J: But then we’re just taking it one day at a time naman, eh. Just enjoying. I don’t really mind that my batchmates are like getting married, having kids. I put a timeline to it naman eh, that I don’t get, I don’t feel pressured, as I said, I’m just enjoying our time together. It’s like our honeymoon stage, we’re just enjoying the relationship. We’re going out, seeing new people, seeing the world. We’re just enjoying. I don’t really feel pressured about whatever has to happen. But I am happy that she’s here.
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Photography by Vyn Radovan. Other photos taken from Jose Sarasola's Instagram account