Take our user survey and make your voice heard.

Graduating from marriage: The Japanese phenomenon of 'sotsukon'

By Kirsty Kawano

In the early 2000s, Japanese writer Yumiko Sugiyama was wondering what marriage in Japan would look like if couples could gain the freedom they desired without getting a divorce.

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.

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

First. This is not a phenomenon. Lastly, this is literally a legal separation minus the legal part of it.

There are many couples all over the world that are still married yet separated. The only difference between Japan and the rest of the world is that separation is not legally recognized in Japan.

8 ( +8 / -0 )


This is unfair. Majority of women are pushed out of the workplace in Japan so they have no proper savings or retirement. Also, imagine having to begin your career from the beginning once again when you are in your 40's or 50's. Your prospects are very slim.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Japanese men are the world's most notorious "Momma's boys"

They live in a protected state from a young age, where their 365-days-a-year sports team practices take precedence over learning how to do anything domestic. Most of them live at home or company provided dorms until married, never cooking a single meal. Then they get married and expect their wives to pick up where their mothers left off.

Lots of Japanese wives even have to give their husbands a daily cash allowance because apparently budgeting is also a skill men here lack.

I wouldn't want to even be roommates with this kind of person, let alone spend the rest of my days cleaning up after one.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

Don't quite understand what women are complaining about. I know so many married women mid 50s and above who are free from their kids as they have grown up and moved out. The husband is out all day and comes home late into the night. The house wives I know go to dance classes, flower arrangement classes, tennis class, cooking classes, just to name a few. In addition enjoy their days chatting with their friends at cafes , restaurants, hot springs and so on. Go on day trips by tour bus or by friend's car. I see so many enjoying their life while the husband stresses out in an office.

Now, for the husbands, retirement doesn't mean your wife is your servant. When you retire, she retires and you do your part in the house. Retirement should be about you and your wife reconnecting and reliving your teenage days together.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

I would say a LOT of marriages end up like this rather quickly, especially once a kid or two are on the scene

7 ( +9 / -2 )

I'd much rather be a kept Japanese housewife than an overworked salaryman. The downtrodden Japanese women are the ambitious ones who want to work and make something of themselves. This is only a minority.

From first-hand observation, most girls/young women in Japan are raised just as spoilt as any of the "mommy's boys". Mothers in Japan are expected to run around for girls just as much as boys. In our case, a lot of this "spoiling" of our children is mandated by the school and the kids' activities. They set rotas and parental responsibilities that require huge sacrifices, driving halfway across the prefecture every weekend etc.

10 ( +13 / -3 )

Men don't have to give their bank cards/pay to their wives, they are adults. More of a choice and a form of babysitting. Talk about handing over your security.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Most older Japanese women end up playing the role of maid or mother while their husbands dedicate themselves to work. 

This sums up marriage in Japan quite well. It should be no surprise that over 30% of women in their 30's are single by choice. They don't want to become mother and housekeeper for a Japanese man-child. Marriage in Japan is taken as more of a duty than a relationship. The day after my marriage to my 'ex' Japanese wife she demanded I give her my bank cards and credit card and have my salary paid into her account and I would be given an allowance of 'pocket money' equalling around ¥500 per day. I told her to shut up and go away. There is the other side of the coin. Many of these women are control freaks and want to treat their husbands like a child.

15 ( +17 / -2 )

A wife should sweetly as her husband for a 3-4 week study abroad program. Let the husband learn on his own where his undies go, how to cook even a simple dish, do laundry and possibly even vacuum on occasion. Let’s see the survival rate.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

My first divorce is like a Sotsukon. She will get her 50%.

My second run at marriage with a smart kind woman is great. Already retired and we are living the high life.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Coming from a culture were family and it's values are put first, and are highly valued. This idea of Sotsukon induces a feeling of emptiness and sadness. Seems marriage is a happiness Grinch in Japan.?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Was there any warning? Did you discuss this before? As I said in my previous post this can happen rather suddenly and it's quite scary really.

It's a very, very common way of handling the family finances in Japan. Rather than 'demand' the bankbook, hanko, etc., be handed over, I imagine ex-Mrs. Disillusioned simply took it for granted that she would be expected to handle finances, that being probably what her own parents and most of her friends took to be the norm. It's only 'rather sudden' if until the rings are on the fingers you kept your eyes closed and remained steadfastly ignorant of Japanese society.

When we married Mr Cleo handed over his bankbook and hanko to me, got me a credit card paid out of his account, and expected me to just get on with it. In all the time I've been in Japan, I think the number of couples I've known where the husband kept a firm grip on the family finances and gave the missus housekeeping money could be counted on the fingers of one hand with enough fingers left over to hold a wine glass to my lips.

Invalid CSRF

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Me and my first wife lived like this and it was a miserable existence! Ultimately it ended in divorce.

You have to give each other space, but not so much that you wind up apart permanently.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I think things are changing fast, at lest in the big cities, because more and more women work full time, even after marriage and kids. I personally share the expenses with my wife, we both work full time and we have a common account where we put money for household expenses every month. And therefore we both have an equal status in the marriage regarding everything.

But the mentality of marrying only the "right person" as decided by his social and financial status, and of "no sex after the kids are born", correlated with the common practice of sex outside marriage, will take much longer to change, if it will ever change

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Be careful what you ask for as there is a big difference between an interest and a dream. Also, if your dreams aren't in line, you are probably already miserable so maybe you ought to just get a divorce.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Isn't it already the case?? I see many Japanese women doing their lives while the husband is occupied with his hobby or drinking...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Marriage in Japan, as described in this article, sounds pretty bleak. I know some people who live like that over here, but I would not call it the norm. I cannot imagine being as insensitive to my partner as described in the article.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I let my first wife freely take from my account where my hard earned money was going. After I realized that the once month pay of ¥820,000 a month was going down to ¥5,000 I figured it out. She was a thief and I promptly fixed that.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

“I want time to myself without the bother of having to report my actions to my husband.”

10pm wife walks in the door

Husband: How was your evening, dear?

Wife: None of your business!

“I want to be freed from housework.”

So get a job and hire a housekeeper.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japanese have the ability to be very cold and emotionless. The foreigner has everything to lose so be careful.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Article is so sexist..

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites