Her efforts culminated in her 2004 book about the concept of sotsukon — "Sotsukon no Susume" – "Recommending the Graduation from Marriage."
The word sotsukon is a combination of the Japanese words for graduation (*sotsugyo, 卒業) and marriage (kekkon*, 結婚). It’s used to describe a couple that stays legally married but live their own lives independent of their spouse.
To Western sensibilities that may be a puzzling explanation. Isn’t marriage supposed to be two people living happy lives together in the first place?
The difference comes from the very strict roles traditionally prescribed to husbands and wives in Japanese marriages. As Sugiyama explained in an interview with CNN, “In Japan, traditionally the man is the head of the household, and the wife lives under his financial support as a domestic worker.”
Fearing hubby’s retirement
Most older Japanese women end up playing the role of maid or mother while their husbands dedicate themselves to work. This role is typically so hands-on that many husbands have no idea where their own underpants are stored. The wife would always supply them when needed. Consequently, many wives fear the day that their husbands retire from work and will require their services all day every day.
This fear was reflected in one of the first surveys of public interest in sotsukon, which was carried out in 2014 by architecture agency Interstation. It asked 200 married Japanese women ranging from their 30s to late 60s whether they were interested in shifting to sotsukon eventually. Of the 200 wives, 56.8% said they were.
When those women were then asked when they wanted to make that change, the most popular answer, at 35%, was when they are 60 to 65 years old—right in line with when their husbands are due to retire.
Reasons the respondents gave for wanting sotsukon typically reflected their desire to enjoy their lives no longer subjected to the needs of their husbands and children. Some responses included:
“I want each of us to pursue our own dreams while we still have the good health to do so.”
“I want time to myself without the bother of having to report my actions to my husband.”
“Now that our children are adults, I want to do all the things that I’ve wanted to do, but held myself back from.”
“I want to be freed from housework.”
“I love my husband, but living together in the same house all the time, we take each other for granted. Living apart would make us appreciate and like each other more.”
The different styles of sotsukon
One of the key aspects of sotsukon is its flexibility. Some couples continue to live in the same house but do their own cooking and cleaning like housemates. Others choose to live in separate homes but meet regularly for dates, to chat, or to help each other with work or chores.
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