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

He is Yoshimichi Itahashi, 66, president of a concrete company here in Fukuoka. He has been married for 38 years and has two daughters and a son.

For almost all of that time, he behaved coldly and selfishly toward his wife and children.

"I think my generation especially has grown up in a very feudalistic era," he said. "I never said I was sorry. When I came home from work, I would say I want to eat dinner, I want a bath and I want to go to bed. I had no time to talk to my wife."

Before the beer and pork supper, Itahashi invited his wife, Hisano, to explain some of the details of his misbehavior.

"He didn't exist in the family," she said. "It was almost like a family of mother and children, like there was no father. Not only was he not there, I couldn't get in touch with him at all."

Itahashi joined the husbands association five years ago, but kept it a secret from his wife for a year, as he quietly taught himself to pay more attention to her and the now-grown children. He said the 2003 divorce law helped focus his mind and see domestic relations in Japan for what he now believes they are -- a volatile mess.

"Japan is a peaceful country, but the household is at war," he said.

Two years ago, Itahashi did something new -- he bought his wife a birthday present.

"Up until my 60th birthday, he had not given me anything at all," she said. "But on my 60th, he sent me 60 flowers."

Hisano Itahashi said that she is heartened that her husband is trying to make amends for the decades he ignored her. Still, she said, the war in her household is not over and her husband has lots of work to do.

"There was only one time he said he loved me," she said. "And that time, he was standing behind me."

Midway through dinner in Fukuoka, as beer flowed and men exchanged marriage-preservation tips, the newest member of the association was sworn in.

Motoharu Kitajima, 30, married over the summer. He runs a local beauty college and said his work requires that he spend a lot of nights out drinking with colleagues. He joined the association as a preventive measure, he said, to help alert him to strains in his marriage.

He is going to try to leave boozy dinners early and get home, he declared. Asked whether he has yet mastered the art of telling his wife that he loves her, he replied: "I can say, 'I love you,' if I am drunk."

Dinner broke up before any of the husbands got noticeably drunk.

As they filed out of the restaurant, Amano advised the husbands not to go to a second drinking party. He said they should go home to their wives.


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