Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Simple "I Love You"

The National Chauvinistic Husbands Association, founded in 1999 by Japanese writer and editor Shuichi Amano out of Fukuoka, Japan, has garnered much publicity in the West in recent years with articles in the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle, and coverage by CNN, among others. The group’s membership is up to 5,000 and has been instrumental in preventing a number of Japanese marriages from dissolving into divorce.

The still male-dominated society has contributed to the dissatisfaction that many Japanese women find in marriage and a divorce rate that has gone up, although one that is still low by U.S. standards. It has also contributed to the trend of younger women delaying or even foregoing marriage. So the formation of this small group and its consciousness raising among men is a good start toward making progress. "My wife says I have changed, that I am more sensitive," a member has been quoted as saying. "She even smiles at me, which she never did before."

In many Japanese marriages today the norm is still for the wife to have dinner and bath ready for her husband no matter how late he gets home from work. The man’s primary role is his job, which leaves little or no time for paying attention to his spouse and children, or helping with domestic chores. There has been a lot of recent lip service from the government and media pundits about work-life balance but, as usual, change in Japan can be slow to come.

To help men become better husbands and to attempt to repair the damage this culture has wrought upon their marriages, members of The National Chauvinistic Husbands Association are asked to reflect on the following ten questions:

-- Are you still in love with your wife?

-- Do you help with domestic housework?

-- Have you ever cheated on your wife?

-- Are you comfortable with a "ladies first" policy (allowing women to enter a car, door, elevator, etc. first)?

-- Can you solve a domestic problem with your wife in a single evening?

-- Do you hold your wife's hand when walking?

-- Do you seriously listen to your wife?

-- Are you able to say "thank you" without hesitation?

-- Are you able to say "sorry" without fear?

-- Are you able to say "I love you" without embarrassment?

These are all worthy questions, but the last one struck me most, perhaps because Valentine’s Day is around the corner (and did you know that in Japan, Valentine’s Day is celebrated by women giving chocolate to men? Yes, there is White Day on March 14, where the roles are reversed, but apparently sales statistics for White Day do not compare with those of February 14).

I met my Osaka-born husband in the San Francisco Bay Area, not in Japan. He’d been living as an expatriate in the U.S. for many years and there was a lot about Japanese society he could not tolerate, which fueled his escape. And, even though I’ve spent time living and visiting and studying Japan, its language, and its culture, it is safe to say that as an American woman I would have had a difficult time living with a traditional Japanese male. So we have been a good match and he has had no problem saying, “I love you.” In fact when we first got married, I found that he said it almost too much!

I’d heard stories about how hard it is for a lot of Japanese men to utter this phrase. Was it because in Japanese you often leave out pronouns such as “I” and “you?” I wondered. Or because so much of Japanese communication is “understood” or “assumed” without the need for crass explanation? I surmised that I’d have to leave this to the sociolinguists.

But I did find out one reason why my husband was so proficient and prolific with his “I love you’s.” He explained that before he went to the United States, his mother advised him that American women, unlike Japanese women, expect to be told “I love you,” and one could not say it enough. How did she know this? From many years of watching Audrey Hepburn and Deborah Kerr movies, I suppose.

She gave her son some good advice, but I wonder if she ever heard “I love you” from her own husband.

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