How do you solve a problem like Maria? The Japanese-Canadian former adult film star cannot be the easiest woman to date, with hundreds of thousands of male fans still pawing at their long-brewing fantasies of her and leaving comments ranging from “you lucky bastard” to “galingan mo, idol” on your feed. There’s also that face and that body, a combination so lethal you’d have to spend the rest of your days fending off anyone plotting to steal her away. And then there’s the strong, spirited charm—she’s a woman who knows what she wants and knows exactly how to get it. So how do you solve a problem like Maria? You don’t. You won’t need to.
And that’s something former Fear Factor contestant and chef Jose Sarasola, who has been Maria’s boyfriend for three months now, knows all too well. (They’re Jose and Maria, yes; we hope the hilarity of that coincidence isn’t lost on you.) “Seloso ka ba?” we ask him when his girlfriend is out of earshot, to which he smiles conspiratorially and replies, “No. Mas selosa siya.” Their banter is easy, light: she coos over him when he steps out of the dressing room in a pastel pink button-down, and after Jose spends 15 minutes on the floor with his arms outstretched being pretend-dragged off the set by Maria, he turns to her and says, “Was this concept your idea?” They touch each other’s hair. She holds on to his shoulder as she wobbles in six-inch heels. They take a bunch of selfies together. They make plans for dinner. Off-cam Maria is really, really nice—maybe even wholesome—and Jose is reserved, a bit shy. But they seem, for lack of a better word, legit, precisely because of the normalcy. There are no smoldering glances exchanged, no hypersexualized body language. Just a new couple trying to get to know each other, enjoying their new couple bliss, hoping they’re in the right relationship with the right person. They may not be completely sure that this is it, finally, in bold, capital letters, but that’s okay. They don’t need to be just yet.
How did you guys meet?
M: Through a common friend, around March last year. She invited me to go to the bar she’d always hang out at, which Jose owns.
What were your first impressions of each other?
M: When I found out he owned the bar, I assumed he liked to drink because I also own a bar in Tokyo, and I love to drink. There was a big tequila poster up on the wall, so I thought, ‘Maybe we can be drinking buddies. Maybe he’s a hard drinker.’
J: Unfortunately, that’s not true at all.
M: And his name is Jose, so I thought maybe he liked Jose Cuervo!
J: We didn’t interact much the first time. I knew who she was, of course, but I tried to play it cool and not act too starstruck.
Was there instant attraction?
Both: [looking at each other] No?
J: She came back the week after, and that was when we really started talking. We found out we had a lot in common and I enjoyed spending time with her, so I got her number.
What do you guys do for fun?
J: We both love going to the movies and trying different restaurants.
M: He likes Japanese food and I love Filipino food, which is perfect. I think food is such an important part of a relationship. If you can’t even agree on what to eat, I don’t think it’ll work.
Maria, has Jose cooked for you?
M: Not yet! Every time he comes over to my condo, I ask if he can cook food for me but he always gets so shy.
J: But she’s tried the food in my bar, which are my recipes, so I guess that’s the same thing?
What’s your favo—
…rite food in Jose’s bar?
M: [laughs] I love their sisig! Ohymgod. And their gambas and baby squid.
So you started out as friends. When did it become something more?
J: Last year, she’d travel a lot between Japan and Manila, and we’d always make an effort to keep in touch. I’d miss her when she was away. That’s when I realized I wouldn’t be constantly finding ways to talk to her if I didn’t like her.
M: I was going back and forth between two places—I wasn’t ready to give up everything I had in Japan yet.
J: But she did.
And you announced your relationship on Instagram, right?
M: I posted a photo of our Valentine’s date, and it ended up going viral. People were speculating about whether or not we were together. It was finally confirmed when he posted a photo of the two of us last month.
Did you ever want to keep the relationship a secret?
M: No. In Japan, when you start dating, you’re already considered a couple. That’s it. But here, I noticed people take their time before they ask someone out. Then they date, then they become official. So many steps! As early as September last year, I was already bugging him, “What are we?” My girl friends also kept asking me why I would post photos of us but he never would. Was I not important? Was he ashamed of me? I would tell them that it’s not like that and to give him some time, but deep inside, I was also like, “When are you going to post at least one photo of us?!”
Jose, why did it take you longer to make things official?
J: I was just waiting for the proper timing. She’s an international star, and I’m also from the showbiz industry, so I didn’t want to rush into things. I knew there would be so many comments once people found out—I was just getting ready to face that wave. Of course I wasn’t embarrassed to be with her.
What has the public reaction been like so far?
J: A mix of positive and negative.
M: I’d say more positive. A lot of people have been really supportive. But there are haters: some of his fans would bash me, and some of my fans would bash him.
J: I know it comes with the territory. I have my share of fans, but her fanbase is much bigger—she has the whole world. It’s understandable that I’d get more of the backlash compared to her. But it’s all good. We’re adjusting to it.
Did you ever think, Wait, is it a good idea to date such a huge celebrity?
J: It didn’t matter. I’ve never really cared about things like that. As long as we’re happy.
M: I’m happy he’s staying strong. I was so worried about him. I’m proud he’s handling it well.
Did you worry about what Jose’s family would think?
M: Yes, of course! I was worried about what they’d think if they searched for me on the internet. But so far we haven’t had any issues like that. They love me so much, and I love them too. I love their hospitality.
J: Hopefully I get to meet her family too in August, when we go to Japan together.
M: My dad’s Canadian, and he’s pretty outgoing and open-minded. I think they’ll get along well.
Have you guys traveled together?
J: We went to the beach with my friends, then last month we were in Kuala Lumpur for work—but we made a vacation out of it as well.
M: That was super fun. Last week, we were in Cebu together.
You learn so much about your partner on a trip. What have you learned about each other?
J: That she hates the aircon! It’s annoying. I’d be taking a shower in the hotel room, then I’d hear a beep and the aircon would be off. You’re Japanese, why do you hate the cold?
M: [laughs] We don’t use airconditioning in Japan! I learned that I’m the planner and he’s the more relaxed one. I make a schedule that we have to follow to the dot. I also learned that he’s a morning person. It takes me forever to get ready.
Do you still get recognized when you’re out of the country?
J: That’s the thing; when you date a Filipina celebrity, if you’re not in the Philippines, people won’t recognize her. But Maria has international fans. We had an encounter with a stalker in KL—there was a guy who kept following us around the whole day.
How do you deal with her creepy fans?
J: I never want to keep her from her fans, but of course as her boyfriend I feel protective of her. We don’t want it to reach a point where I have to step in and fight with someone, so when we think things are already starting to get out of control, we just go home to avoid trouble. Other than that, I don’t feel like it’s a hassle to deal with her fans.
Maria, you must have your own strategies…
M: I pretend I’m on my phone, especially when I’m on my own. I’m okay with taking photos, but when Jose and I are out together, I don’t want anyone being touchy or pushing him aside. That bothers me. Sometimes when I walk into a club, I’ll hear a guy say something bastos, but I’ll just ignore it and head straight to the VIP room.
Some people say you’re an unlikely couple, but you actually seem quite similar.
M: I think we’re just really good together. We’re both fun and spontaneous.
J: She’s makulit and kwela, which are very Pinoy traits. She’s been here for three years already, so I guess she’s adapted to the culture. And she can understand Filipino now. She says she doesn’t, but she does.
M: No, I don’t! Konti lang! I’m still learning.
J: Be careful when you say something about her in Filipino, because she can understand you. That’s why I can’t talk to my friends about her when she’s around.
How did your friends react when they found out you were dating Maria?
M: Ooh, I haven’t heard this story!
J: They were shocked and excited. I was single for seven years, then when I finally get a girlfriend, it’s not just anyone… I mean, it’s Maria Ozawa. They were happy that I finally found someone.
Maria, when was your last relationship?
M: Three years ago. We broke up because I wanted to move to the Philippines. I was determined to do it, so I sold my bar and all my business shares to him so I could come here.
So you’re really settling down here?
M: I hope so. It’s just so much better here. The people are so nice, the food is delicious, the weather is good. I love it here!
Not just because of Jose?
M: Hmm… mostly because of him.
What experiences are you looking forward to together?
J: We both want to travel more. We have our Japan trip coming up, then maybe we can take another one later this year.
M: I want him to see the non-touristy spots in Japan, the way he showed me around the Philippines. The more we travel, the more we get to know one another and discover what makes us click. And hopefully that leads to even better things.
Photography Wesley Villarica Styling Debra Bernales Makeup Janina Dizon Hair Nikko Bruel