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The 'zombification' of married life

20 Comments

The divorce rate peaked in 2020 and is now falling. Does that mean marriage is resurging?

No, says Spa! (Oct 12).

Married couples are “zombifying,” is the magazine’s melancholy conclusion. Instead of divorcing, as they once might have, they grimly endure each other. It’s better, or seems so, than the foreseeable alternatives – prominent among them financial insecurity amid declining wages and emotional insecurity as the lingering COVID-19 crisis corrodes the strength to face the world alone.

There are no doubt many reasons why marriage, so hopefully embarked upon, so quickly turns sour for so many. Spa! zeroes in on one – the double-income household.

It’s become standard. Some 12.4 million households are double-income – twice the figure for those in which the wife is a full-time homemaker.

It’s an evolution the government is actively encouraging – without, however, doing much to change deeply entrenched social and family customs which work against it, namely long working hours and an ingrained tendency to see household chores and child-raising as essentially the wife’s domain, whether she works or not.

“Ryuichi Honma” (a pseudonym) is 35 and has been married five years. He and his wife have two small daughters. He works in real estate. This is how he describes his life: “At work and at home, I’ve reached a dead end.”

His job is part-time. He took it after fleeing a “black company” whose working conditions he found intolerably exploitive. He was given to understand that promotion to full-time was a distinct possibility, but after a year he’s still waiting. He admits that his performance during the first year left something to be desired. He’s struggling to do better. But the support a happy home would give is not forthcoming.

The marriage went bad after the birth of the second child, he says. The strains of raising two toddlers on a part-time salary – 4 million a year with no bonuses or other benefits – can be crushing. His wife, also a part-time worker, is now on childcare leave. Exhaustion is undermining her health. Her demands for help from him around the house are quite reasonable, he concedes – especially now that the coronavirus has him working mostly from home. But he feels he must give work his full attention. How else can he prove himself worthy of the full-time status and salary that would ease the financial strain? Perhaps then his wife could quit her job and be a full-time housewife – the most promising solution, as far as he’s concerned.

Divorce? The thought has crossed his mind. But no – “I could never leave the girls. Maybe as they get bigger, things will get better,” he says. It’s the hope that keeps him going.

“Kazuo Kishima” (also a pseudonym), at 49 has been married 25 years. Two of three children are grown and out of the house; the youngest is 14. “Not that we quarrel or anything,” he says of his relationship with his wife – but it’s been years since they’ve talked about anything apart from immediate household business. What’s the point of  staying together? None, he says, once the last of the parental responsibilities have been fulfilled. Except one, he adds as an afterthought: financial.

Do most marriages sink into this leaden torpor? Certainly many do. The practical concerns are overwhelming. Kishima is in the event planning industry, working long hours, often deep into the night, earning 6.8 million yen a year pre-corona, 4.8 million now. The additional 2 million his wife’s part-time job brings in is no luxury. The family couldn’t make ends meet without it.

And so things drag on, and will probably continue to even after the youngest child has left the nest, from sheer inertia if not from the deeper uneasiness about facing the world alone on a single inadequate income, after decades of family life, however tense.

That’s what Spa! means by “zombification.”

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

20 Comments
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Get back on that hamster wheel, zombies!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Sounds like a lot of the underlying problems spring from the attitude of the employers and the workplace culture in Japan, even where archaic cultural attitudes to household duties don’t exist. Double income households are not exactly unknown elsewhere in the world and couples have managed to cope perfectly well with it, but there usually is a very different attitude to work and workplace culture.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The advantages of family and education should not be overlooked. Family gives one the support to make it easier to get an education, an education that assists in both making one feel fulfilled, and in making enough money to support a family. The article did not make it sound like the principles had very good jobs.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The divorce rate peaked in 2020 and is now falling. Does that mean marriage is resurging?

Well, given that the "peak" happened last year and we have not even reached the end of 2021 yet, it,s not really a very accurate claim deshoo...

5 ( +6 / -1 )

-But he feels he must give work his full attention.

The guy works part time from home and he doesn't have time to help his exhausted wife with chores? Yeah. Right.

-I could never leave the girls.

The girls will grow up and leave home, determined not to end up like their mother. I expect the wife will follow if she can find a man capable of working the 'on' button on a washing machine and having a conversation with her.

-It’s an evolution the government is actively encouraging – without, however, doing much to change deeply entrenched social and family customs which work against it.

The government is not your Mum and Dad, and you are not a child. Times change. Grown adults should be able to change with them and adapt.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

It is nothing to do with any in genius plans by the j-gov. We have seen that the J-gov are incompetent when it comes to planning for any emergencies or serious issues.

The issue is simple! Since the pandemic, the economy has been terrible and unstable. Many people with financial obligations like family and medical are not going to take any major chances with so much uncertainty. That includes divorce. If you are wealthy then it is not a problem, but if you are pulling in a combined 5-6 million yen a year for a family of 4 in an urban area. Losing a portion of that through the divorce is a real hit to the lifestyle for both partners.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The marriage went bad after the birth of the second child, he says. 

I may be misreading the article, but it sure sounds like they had a second kid after he left his job and was on part-time salary, which seems like a really bad idea.

I always see this kind of thing, either people having kids far beyond their means or [even worse] having kids to "fix" a broken marriage. Both inevitably end terribly. Don't have kids unless you very strongly want them and can afford both the time commitment and money.

The article doesn't seem to touch on this but I wonder if couples not getting married are contributing too. My partner and I are DINK and see no real reason to actually get married. There are some legal benefits but a lot less if you are never going to be having kids.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

4 million yen a year for a part time job is really really high right?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

4 million yen a year for a part time job is really really high right?

I think this situation is describing a guy on a contract rather than a permanent fulltime employee...Japanese part time hours would be considered "full time" anywhere else.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

“Ryuichi Honma” (a pseudonym) is 35 and has been married five years. He and his wife have two small daughters. He works in real estate. This is how he describes his life: “At work and at home, I’ve reached a dead end.”

My brother in arms!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This article is kind of all over the place. The first couple seems like they might be OK except for financial hardships. The second couple sound like they're basically roommates to each other now. Those seem to be very different problems to me. So, why are they grouped together as reasons why people don't divorce? I mean, why not add more reasons like a sick partner, a shared business, etc. There are as many reasons out there to not get divorced as there are reasons out there to marry. This article fails to draw any parallels between the couples they give as examples, or support their "zombification" claim with any data or research. I assume they thought the term sounded cool, it kind of tied in with Halloween, and so they hit publish. I feel stupider for having read this lol.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

a part-time salary – 4 million a year with no bonuses or other benefits 

A single guy can live pretty decently in Tokyo on that salary.

Mgtow for life.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Divorce rates worldwide have gone up during the same period of time. This is not a Japan only problem like some people on here like to say.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Covid-19 is going to wreck Japanese socioeconomics much harder. Japanese people are not only poorer than those in the 1990s but they are getting much poorer soon.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have one takeaway from the article. That the couples have nothing in common with each other before they got married, they weren't friends nor partners. The only thing holding them together are children and money. I do not see that as a relationship... My wife knows two couples (company colleagues) that are like that, they don't talk to each other at all, only notes and eat separately. He either eats before he comes home or what he bought at a convenience store in his room. And don't get divorced because of children and money.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It’s an evolution the government is actively encouraging

The government is encouraging this not out of a desire for gender equality, with talented women being able to work and loving fathers able to put childcare first; they're encouraging this because they want additional tax money and they want consumer prices to rise and for it to require two incomes just to get by.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Oops; this line should be a quote:

It’s an evolution the government is actively encouraging

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Instead of divorcing, as they once might have, they grimly endure each other.

Don't know about the wives' side but I know a good number of guys who are not grimly enduring anything.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Just a factual correction: The divorce rate peaked in 2002, not 2020.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It’s an evolution the government is actively encouraging – without, however, doing much to change deeply entrenched social and family customs 

The government doesn’t control “deeply entrenched social and family customs” - people do. There is much more to life than waiting around for the government to do something for you.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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