Divorce—Where East Meets West
By Awake! correspondent in Japan
“LET ME retire from my work too.” These words came as a surprise to an executive retiring from a major Japanese trading company. His wife wanted to retire from being his mate and homemaker. Their country is experiencing an upsurge in its divorce rate, which, surprisingly, engulfs the middle-aged and older. Among those in their 50’s and 60’s, the number of divorces has tripled in 20 years. Giving up on their marriage seems to have become their last opportunity to find a happier life.
At the other end of the age scale, younger couples who become disillusioned with each other during their honeymoons decide to have a Narita rikon (Narita divorce). Narita is Tokyo’s international airport, and the expression refers to newlywed couples who say good-bye to each other and their marriage when they arrive back at Narita. In fact, 1 out of 4 or 5 couples seek divorce in Japan. They view divorce as the door to a happier life.
Even in Hong Kong, where old Chinese values are still strong, the divorce rate more than doubled in the six years between 1981 and 1987. In Singapore, divorce among both Muslims and non-Muslims increased almost 70 percent between 1980 and 1988.
Admittedly, women’s viewpoints in the East have long been repressed. For example, in the old days in Japan, a husband could divorce his wife with just “three and a half lines” of writing. All he had to do was write down in three-and-a-half lines a statement confirming the divorce and hand the piece of paper to his wife. His wife, on the other hand, had no easy way to obtain a divorce except by taking refuge in a temple that offered sanctuary to women running away from bullying husbands. With no means to support themselves, wives have had to bear loveless marriages and even their husbands’ extramarital affairs.
Today, many a husband who plunges into the corporate system virtually abandons his family. He sees nothing wrong in living for his company. With such devotion to work, he neglects his wife’s need to be heard and looks upon her as an unpaid servant who cooks, cleans, and washes for him.
The influx of Western ideas, however, is transforming the way that Eastern women view marriage and married life. “The ‘liberation’ of women,” observes Asia Magazine, “is implicitly the single-most important factor in leading to the rising divorce rate in Asia.” Anthony Yeo, director of Singapore’s Counselling and Care Centre, said: “Women have become more assertive of their rights and more conscious of their dignity. They are no longer willing to sit back and take things quietly. Today’s women have more options and less tolerance of neglect and abuse. And divorce is a real option for those who cannot find marital happiness, especially when the stigma surrounding it has been largely lifted and is not what it used to be 25 years ago.”
Western countries too have undergone a profound change during the past quarter century. Samuel H. Preston called the change “the earthquake that shuddered through the American family in the past 20 years.” In 1985 almost a quarter of all homes with children under 18 were single-parent homes, mostly because of divorce. It is forecast that 60 percent of children born in 1984 may be living in a single-parent home before they reach 18.
With the institution of marriage weakening, is divorce really the door to a happier life? To answer let us first examine what caused people to view divorce as the panacea for their family problems.
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A Fruitage of “Live-in Divorce”
UNDERNEATH the number of actual divorces lurk “dormant” divorces. In Japan, where many women are still economically dependent on their husbands and subjected to the persisting tradition of male domination, couples may reluctantly live under the same roof in a condition termed “live-in divorce.” In such a situation, wives tend to pour all their energy into child rearing. These mothers are often overprotective, making it difficult for the children later to stand on their own feet.
As a result, when such mothers’ sons grow up and marry, many of them suffer from a “no-touch syndrome.” These never lovingly touch their wives at all, even after several years of married life. They suffer from what has been labeled the “I love Mummy” problem and often got married because their mothers told them to. According to the Asahi Evening News, Dr. Yasushi Narabayashi, who specializes in marriage counseling, says that the problem has been growing for a decade and that there are tens of thousands of men afraid to seek advice because of their shame.