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The National Chauvinistic Husbands Association

Japan's 'Chauvinistic Husbands' save marriages

Catherine Makino, Chronicle Foreign Service
Sunday, January 20, 2008

When his marriage began to sour in 2005, advertising executive Yohei Takano credited the National Chauvinistic Husbands Association with staving off a messy divorce.

"We fought a lot over little things. I would provoke her, and it would turn into a huge fight," recalled the 29-year-old Takano. "After I joined the association, I began communicating more and sharing household responsibilities."

Takano's wife, Yoshie, says she is now a lot happier. "I am very pleased that he helps and communicates with me," she said. "We can now joke and laugh with each other."

The National Chauvinistic Husbands Association is the brainchild of writer Shuichi Amano, 55, who founded the group in 1999 in the southern city of Fukuoka with just 10 men. Today, there are almost 5,000 husbands and chapters throughout Japan.

The association says it can save many marriages through a 10-question approach, which acts as a sensitivity gauge of a husband's behavior toward his wife. The questions include: Are you still in love with your wife? Do you help her with domestic housework? Do you hold your wife's hand while walking? Do you seriously listen to your wife?

At monthly meetings, group counselors offer a whopping 450 tips to help husbands interact with their wives. The suggestions include leaving love notes, "thank you" cards and unsolicited spending money around the house. The counselors also emphasize what they call the three "principles of love" that can turn a failing marriage around - saying "sorry," "thank you" and "I love you" in a nation not known for having a demonstrative culture.

"I always apologized to my (male) clients and superiors, so why couldn't I do it with my wife?" Takano said.

Divorce rates in Japan have soared in recent years, with 70 percent of the nation's 260,000 annual divorces initiated by unhappy wives, many of whom say their husbands don't communicate with them, said Yoko Itamoto, a Tokyo marriage counselor. The rate is especially high among middle-age couples, according to the Health Labor and Welfare Ministry. About 42,000 couples who had been married for more than 20 years divorced in 2004 - double the number in 1985. In that period, the divorce rate jumped four times among couples married more than 30 years.

Japanese women are also marrying later than before - the average age is now 27. A study by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications showed that 40 percent of women between 25 and 29 are single. Among female university graduates of the same age, 54 percent are single.

To be sure, Japan's divorce rate is still low in contrast with the United States. In 2006, there were 2 divorces for every 1,000 people, up from 1.7 in 1996, according to government data. The U.S. divorce rate is 3.6 per 1,000 people.

"Divorce used to center around domestic violence or gambling," said Itamoto, the marriage counselor, "but now women realize their husbands' priority is the company they work for and not their families" and are divorcing if the men don't spend more time at home.

Amano formed the Chauvinistic Husbands Association after his wife of 25 years, Keiko, threatened to divorce him unless he spent more time with his family than at the publishing company where he works as a writer and editor.

"It happened when I came home late one evening from work and asked my wife if she thought it was strange that suddenly all these middle-aged men around me were getting divorced," Amano said. "My wife said, 'Well, I think you will be next.' "

Once he got over the shock of her reaction, Amano said he realized that he had been one of Japan's "strong husbands," who typically communicate with their wives only when ready for a bath, a meal or bed. "I cannot fully forgive him for his past actions," Keiko said, "but I'm trying to accept him little by little."

Sociologists point out that many Japanese men have been raised to become breadwinners and view their wives as nothing more than maternal caregivers for them and their children. According to a recent survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, more than 80 percent of married women, regardless of whether they work outside the home, do the cleaning, cooking and washing.

"Men do not have the experience of making relationships and communicating with others, and normally do not talk about their families," Itamoto said. "They have only been trained to achieve in the workplace and be loyal to their company."

Shoichi Oba, a 46-year-old Tokyo magazine editor, was a firm believer that his wife should obey him, no matter what.

"Since belonging to the group, I have reformed and now get up early in the mornings to see my wife and daughter (before work) and even do the dishes," Oba said.

Yoshimichi Itahashi, the 65-year-old president of a concrete company in Fukuoka, said the association has helped him learn the secret to a happy marriage: "understanding a wife's loneliness, sadness and complaints. And I can now tell my wife of 38 years that I love her without embarrassment," he said.

Experts say Japan's male-dominated society is just one reason for increasing divorces. Also adding to divorce frequency are changing cultural conditions - more women are in the workplace, divorce is no longer viewed as a stigma, and a new pension system offers women economic independence from their husbands. The plan, which was introduced in April, grants a divorced wife as much as 50 percent of her ex-husband's pension.

"Women today no longer have to suffer in silence," said journalist Aya Mori, 41, who has written a series of articles on divorce for the national women's magazine Very. "Many women get divorced, thinking they are still young enough to restart their life."

Katsuki Kuwano, vice president of International Ltd. in Japan, an online dating service, said increasing economic independence has caused many Japanese women in their 50s and 60s to divorce and search out new boyfriends.

Meanwhile, Amano said his wife may be close to forgiving him for his past behavior. She is pleased that he now spends more time at home with their three daughters and helps wash dishes, take out the garbage and clean the bathtub.

"My wife says I have changed, that I am more sensitive," Amano said. "She even smiles at me, which she never did before."

10 questions of the National Chauvinistic Husbands Association

This quiz is the first step for the Japanese group, which has nearly 5,000 members:

  1. Are you still in love with your wife?
  2. Do you help with domestic housework?
  3. Have you ever cheated on your wife?
  4. Are you comfortable with a "ladies first" policy (allowing women to enter a car, door, elevator, etc. first)?
  5. Do you hold your wife's hand when walking?
  6. Do you seriously listen to your wife?
  7. Can you solve a domestic problem with your wife in a single evening?
  8. Are you able to say "thank you" without hesitation?
  9. Are you able to say "sorry" without fear?
  10. Are you able to say "I love you" without embarrassment?

- Catherine Makino

This article appeared on page A - 15 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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