Aging Japanese husbands struggle to rekindle marriages

Mitsutoshi Fukatsu has been with his wife for three decades, but their lives have grown apart. As a busy station master in central Japan, he returned home only to eat, bathe and sleep.

Now with retirement looming, the 56-year-old wants to get to know his wife better. He's helping with chores, calls his wife by her name Setsuko instead of just grunting and he recently learned a new phrase: "I love you."

Fukatsu is one of a small but growing group of men who took part in Japan's second annual "Beloved Wives Day" on Wednesday in hopes of salvaging their marriages by doing something unusual pay attention to their wives.

"For about a year now, I've been starting to help out with the housework," Fukatsu said. "I can't stay at my company for ever. I have to return home. But right now, I don't feel like I have a place there."

Last year, a new group for men called the Japan Adoring Husbands Association designated Jan. 31 as a day for husbands to return home at the unusually early hour of 8 p.m., look into their wife's eyes, and say, "Thank you."

The movement, though small about 230 people have posted messages on the group's Web page about this year's event represents quite a change for a generation of Japanese men taught to consider their companies first and their wives much later, reports AP.

On Wednesday, the village where the association is based held a renewal of vows ceremony for a local 50-something couple and handed out prizes to three men as the best "doting husbands" before sending them home to spend some quality time with their beloved.

The reasons for the movement are many.

This year, the first of Japan's postwar baby boom generation will reach 60 and retire, meaning an unprecedented number of men will have to abandon their home-away-from-home the all-consuming office and spend more time with their spouses.

There are financial reasons as well. An impending law change that gives housewives a bigger share of their spouse's pension could trigger a surge in divorces among older couples, as women frustrated with years of neglect take the money and run.

These are tough times for Japanese marriages.

Japan's divorce rate is a relatively low 2.08 per 1,000 couples, but the number of splits has increased more than 60 percent since 1985 to 261,917 in 2005, according to government statistics.

Older couples are prime movers in the trend. Divorce among those married for more than 20 years has grown the fastest, nearly doubling since 1985 to over 40,000 couples in 2005 with separation more likely to be initiated by women, leaving their exes to face a lonely old age in a country where the average male lifespan is over 78, one of the world's longest.

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