Sachiko’s husband retired at 60. She was 57, their two children were grown; after 35 years of marriage they were free. They’d spend quiet days together at home, dine out sometimes, travel abroad occasionally. Growing old isn’t so bad after all. So Sachiko had been musing to herself when her husband abruptly broke in on her thoughts: “Let’s divorce.”
Was he joking? He was not. He’d already worked out the details, and now handed her a written plan for dividing the assets. It was reasonable and fair. Her financial security would be assured.
Once upon a time, so the legend goes, marriage was stable, if not always (or often) happy. Then Japanese began thinking more of themselves and less of the collective – in this case, the family. Divorce surged in the 1990s. It peaked around 2002, then gradually declined. The latest available welfare ministry figures record 222,104 divorces in 2014, down 9,279 from 2013.
Meanwhile, reports Josei Jishin (April 19), one particular category of divorce is surging – divorce among the elderly. In 2014 there were 36,800 of those – up 70% over the past 25 years. And more and more of them are at the husband’s instigation – 40% lately, up from 20% a decade ago.
"Over the past four or five years I’m seeing more women who’ve been cast off by their husbands,” says divorce counselor Atsuko Ogano. “There’s the usual story about him wanting to live with his girlfriend, but it’s not only that. Lately it’s often a question of the husband being fed up with the wife’s attitudes toward life.”
Sachiko, one of Ogano’s clients, is a case in point. As her husband saw her she was a full-time housewife who did no housework. The house was a mess, the cooking a matter of slapping together pre-prepared supermarket fare.
To Sachiko, the blow came out of the blue, but Ogano says there were warning signs Sachiko failed to heed, or misread. His silence, for instance. If he was unhappy he would have complained, right? Wrong. Silence speaks louder than complaints. A complaining husband thinks the problems are soluble. A silent husband has given up. He stayed away as much as possible, ate out whenever convenient, and put up with things at home until he thought, “I’m not getting any younger – why not take the plunge?” He moved back with his parents. It seems rather late in life for that, but maybe he has something else in mind for the near future.
Josei Jishin, telling us nothing further about Sachiko’s deeper feelings, moves on to Kayoko, who now at 50, with a daughter of 18, has had to board with relatives, her husband having abandoned her in the family home with the loan not paid off.
They’d coasted more or less smoothly through the ups and downs of married life when suddenly a bitter quarrel broke out. Furious, Kayoko burs out, “I want a divorce!”
It seemed to be just what her husband was waiting for. He walked out without a word and hasn’t been heard from since. When bank officials came to threaten repossession of the house unless the loan was taken care of, Kayoko, a full-time housewife with no independent income and no work experience, made her plans accordingly, which hopefully are longer-term than the magazine’s account suggests.© Japan Today