Tuesday, December 25, 2007
The Don't Divorce Me Club
In the corner of a small Japanese restaurant, a dozen dark-suited businessmen gathered at a large table. Smoke hovered over the dinner and beer disappeared as quickly as it was poured. At first glance, it looked like a typical Friday night post-work scene played out all over Tokyo’s taverns. But then your eye stops on a poster-sized sign propped up next to one of the middle-aged men. It reads:
Three Golden Rules of Love:
* Thank you (say it without hesitation)
* I am sorry (say it without fear)
* I love you (say it without embarrassment)
All the men at the table stood up. Equally spaced out and still wearing their stiff black suits, they chanted in unison: "I can’t win! I won’t win! I don’t want to win!" The chant was followed by a deep bow, a straightening of the backs, big smiles and a burst of applause. The meeting of the "National Chauvinistic Husbands Association" was under way.
If you're confused at this point, don't fret. The group is called the National Chauvinistic Husbands Association because it's a club for bossy husbands who need help (a little lost in translation effect here.)
So the title is appropriate for this group of men. In an abrupt about face from traditional Japanese relationships, the men are learning how to give their wives more respect.
More poster signs surrounded the men at this meeting:
Three Golden Rules of Renewing Family:
* Let's Listen
* Let's Write
* Let's Talk
Three Golden Rules for Extramarital Affairs:
* I don't do it
* I am not doing it
* I am not even thinking about it
And there's even a system of ranking your husbandry in the club:
Rank 1: Love your wife after three years of marriage
Rank 2: Help with the household work
Rank 3: No extramarital affairs or at least she doesn't know about it
Rank 4: Ladies first
Rank 5: Hold hands with your wife in public
Rank 6: Listen to what your wife has to say carefully and seriously
Rank 7: Solve issues between your wife and your mother
Rank 8: Say thank you without hesitation
Rank 9: Say I'm sorry without fear
Rank 10: Say I love you without embarrassment
The meeting was jovial and there was laughter at times. But the undercurrent was serious and taken to heart by the 4,700 members of this club in Japan. They're all acutely aware of a new law in Japan this year that entitles a wife filing for divorce to claim half her husband’s company pension.
That change led to a spike in divorces in the country, as some Japanese women, tired of their long-absent salarymen, decided they’re better off on their own. These men say they don't want to be alone so they'll change for their wives.
As the men talked in their support-group-setting, you quickly became aware of how rare it is to see men, especially businessmen, so emotionally intimate. One man confessed his typical Japanese workday (spanning 16 hours at times) was making his wife angry.
The group leader warned he’s on the highway to divorce and he needs to put his wife before work. Another man said he's too Japanese and can't seem to put his wife first. The group leader warned he's too old-fashioned. Another man, married 22 years, shared the fear that he'll be alone in old age because his wife complains about his snoring. Heads around the table nodded up and down in sympathy.
I couldn't help but ask: "As an American, it seems so easy to hold hands or say 'I love you.' What’s so hard about your rules or rankings?"
The group leader looked at me and said what's hard about the seemingly simple rules is following them fully and changing your behavior. He said it's easy saying it or doing it, but changing who you are and really believing it is quite another. He also pointed out to me that the divorce rate in America is over 50 percent. In Japan, the rate is still below 10 percent. Maybe, he suggested, some of the ways the Japanese approach love and marriage isn't so strange after all.
After the meeting, we followed a young man named Yohei Takayama home. He'd just been promoted to "Rank 4." He admitted that "Rank 5," holding hands with his wife in public, was not going to be natural or easy. He and his wife have been married for two years. His wife said he’s been a member of the club for a year and a half and it has changed their relationship dramatically.
Namely, she said, he helps more around the house, listens to her more, and understands she also has a career that exhausts her. What they’re growing into, she said, is a partnership. They went grocery shopping, and I noticed he carried the bags and helped her decide what to buy. As they left the store to go home, he took her hand in his. It didn't look like the most natural thing in the world for him, but he was trying. His wife smiled as they walked home.
You can watch my report here.
-- From CNN Correspondent Kyung Lah in Tokyo
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