From 'batsu' to 'maru': Japan’s shift in attitude toward untying the knot

By Aya Satoh Hoshina

Batsuichi. Maruni. What do these terms mean and signify in Japan? Savvy Tokyo takes a closer look at how divorce is traditionally perceived in Japan and how people’s attitude toward it may be changing.

Recently, I was having lunch with one of my close female friends. She’s in her late 20s and recently divorced her husband, with whom she had been dating since college. The reason was simple: her husband had serious money issues that caused a major problem between them to the point that it broke their relationship. Even though she had a solid reason to separate from him, she kept telling me that she isn’t “pure” and shouldn’t actively seek out new love. Why? I asked and she responded that she is now batsuichi — a common Japanese term used to refer to someone who’s undergone divorce, which roughly translates to “strike one” or “one name struck from the family register.”

Another day, I was enjoying lunch with another friend in her early 40s. We were updating each other on what had been happening in our lives recently when she started talking about her now second marriage — or, more precisely, whether or not she should continue her marriage with her cheating husband. It was clear that my friend was both fed up and devastated, as this was not the first time her husband had had an affair. Yet she was reluctant to leave him because doing so would make her batsuni, or someone who has been divorced twice.

While listening to my friends talk, a question — or rather, a series of questions — came to mind. Why are these women feeling a sense of guilt about divorcing their problematic spouses? Why should divorce get in the way of starting a new life? As someone who has spent over 10 years living in the U.S. and seeing how marriage and family take various forms and shapes overseas, I couldn’t help but ponder this distinct Japanese negative attitude toward divorce.

The Scarlet Letter X: Divorce in Japan’s registry system

The extreme negativism toward divorce in Japan is largely rooted in our koseki, or family registry, system. Back in the days when registry records were handwritten, when two people tied the knot, one of them took on the spouse’s surname, thus marrying into the spouse’s family. His or her first name was written into the spouse’s official family register. Should the marriage end in divorce, however, the name was crossed out with a large “X” — a symbol Japanese people call batsu

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© Savvy Tokyo

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I fully support the right to divorce without stigma for couples having serious problems.

However 1/3 rd of marriages ending in divorce and a large percentage of the others failing as well is unhealthy for society. This is especially damaging to the children involved. Children raised in happy families where mum and dad are united have a far greater chance to grow to confident, emotionally stable adults that go out into the world successfully contributing to society and wo are ble to work well with others.

It would be helpful if you couples learned more about the importance of making thier marriage successful for thier and their children's sake.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

It would be helpful if YOUNG couples learned more about the importance of making thier marriage successful for thier and their children's sake.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Besides, life is much more fun in a happy marriage, when you look forward to going home after work and seeing your lovely wife and beautiful kids. It takes a lot of self sacrifice but it's worth it to give it the best shot you can.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Sadly happy marriages are RARE & getting rarer, I dont expect them to get better over time for the vast majority

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Comments from happily married people telling others to try a bit harder for the sake of the kids, aren't particularly helpful.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Divorce is not meant to be an obstacle course. In the vast majority of cases, there is some reasonable reason behind the divorce. Yes, in a small number of cases it may be simple calculation, but that is the same as in the case of marriage.

And there should also be a simple possibility of annulment of the marriage within a certain period of time.

Excuses about koseki being this or that are just ridiculous in 2020s. On the one hand, we are planning something as complex as the Olympics, on the other hand, can't we somehow easily edit the entry in the koseki?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sounds like an article from 1922.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

First of all, registering a divorce in Japan is very easy, at least as compared with some countries in Europe, where it is an utter nightmare.

Second, there is an increase in divorce rate in Japan, and batsu ichi stigma is slowly dissapearing. I speak from experience...

Now, if you are in an unhappy marriage, divorce is the logical option. However, if there are kids involved, in my opinion parents should put the children's happiness first and try as much as possible to make things work. I know it is not always possible, and toxic marriages or toxic people make the household even more of a burden for the children, and in those cases divorce remains the only option, but if parents can make an effort until the children are old enough, it is worth it. Even in Japan, I've seen a few children raised by a single parent, and it affected them a lot

3 ( +4 / -1 )

When you're forced into a marriage simply because of one sexual mistake, that's asking for trouble.

And it would help if both parents were allowed to see their children (providing abuse was not the reason for divorce). Simply removing one parent from the children is inhumane.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I consider marriage an outdated institution premised on the stereotype of women being financially incompetent and sole caregivers to children. The result is that the man is severely penalized financially and usually unable to have normal contact with his children after a divorce. I suggest any man really reconsider getting married, and think about just living together as a better option in this day and age.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

My own impression of the batsuichi expression is that it has been "owned" by the divorced themselves and is now almost a euphemism, i.e., an expression intended to lighten, not a condemnation. The author here is taking the batsu as a cross etymology very literally, but I don't think that is appropriate in 2021. The batsu is something like a speeding fine. The first link I found said


("more people are seeing the world differently and divorce is no longer viewed as automatically negative")

As with the expression "haafu" which many Westerners seem to have a problem with, you have to look at how the word is used, not where it came from, and place it in context of the expressions that people used to use, some of which were far nastier. Many batsuichi and haafus are happy to use those expressions themselves.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If everyone in Japan wanted a divorce for a cheating spouse there would be no married couples left.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I think it's time we looked at marriage again and come up with several alternatives.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

My personal take of marriage in Japan is its a "CONVENIENCE" people don't marry for support not love, they marry for status.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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