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Learn to Be Nice to Your Wife, or Pay the Price

In 1980, about three-quarters of Japan's college-educated women were married by age 29. Now, seven out of 10 are single at that age. In the past 20 years, the percentage of women in this elite demographic category who do not want to marry at all has almost doubled -- to about 29 percent.

This wariness is a rational response to the isolation and drudgery of being a wife in Japan, according to Hiromi Ikeuchi, a family counselor with the Tokyo Family Laboratory. "I don't think it is the fault of men," she said. "It is the corporate culture that expects men to work late."

Japan's divorce rate had been rising steadily for decades. Then, in 2003, the law was passed granting a divorcing wife the right to as much as half of her husband's pension. But the pension provision did not go into effect until this April.

"Hundreds of thousands of women were waiting," said Ikeuchi, who added that since April about 95 percent of divorce applications have come from women who apparently were done waiting. "Unfortunately, I think the divorce rate is going to go up."

She said the situation is particularly worrisome for married men nearing retirement -- men who are soon to return full time to the bosom of families they have financially supported but emotionally ignored.

"This husband who comes back is an alien," Ikeuchi said. "For a wife to accept this alien is going to be very, very difficult."

While many experts agree that there is a marriage crisis brewing in Japanese, the response of men has been tepid.

The National Chauvinist Husbands Association has been widely covered in the Japanese news media in the past five years. But it has recruited just 4,300 members in a country of about 60 million men. Most married men in Japan are simply not paying attention, Ikeuchi said. "They think their wives will take care of them, like they took care of the children," she said. "They have no conception if their wife is happy."

The husbands association ranks its members on a scale of 1 to 10.

A "1" is a well-meaning but clueless guy who has done little more than show up at a group meeting.

A "10" is a husband who has reached a Zen-like state of being able to show his wife through his daily behavior that he truly loves her -- and even manages to spit out the words "I love you." It is not common in Japanese culture for men or women to say those words, even in happy marriages, according to marriage counselors.

So far, the husbands association has unearthed only one "10."

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