Japan: Divorces and parasites upset the balance
Mon Feb 28 13:24:24 EST 2000
from: Smart Marriages
Financial Review February 21, 2000
Divorces and parasites upset the balance
By Andrew Cornell
One of the enduring images of Japan, even in these recessionary days, is
perfectly good consumer goods left out on the street for the garbage
Opportunistic foreigners tell tales of equipping their digs with
televisions, stereos, fridges and washing machines dug from the dump.
In Japan, while combustible, non-combustible and recyclable discards are
free, large rubbish must be paid for and put outside with a receipt
Such large items are called "sodai gomi", inconvenient rubbish, which is
also the nickname given to retired salarymen. Equally unkind, but
colourful, is "nureochiba" - dead wet leaves that stick to the leg - as
retired husband, deprived of work and work functions, hangs about sticking
to the wife.
As Japan struggles to restructure its economy, the social cost is
increasingly evident in rising unemployment, irrationally high savings due
to fears about the future, and growing numbers of homeless.
Other, more subtle social changes are also occurring.
Seiji Kohno is a successful, 50-something businessman who is well
in his electronics company. But he has also been divorced twice and, now
married for the third time, he has been anxious that a third divorce could
see him without a job.
It is not an idle anxiety in the rigidly codified world of corporate
At his third marriage, senior company officials made it clear that another
divorce would simply be unacceptable.
But Kohno has a deeper anxiety, "teinnen rikon", divorce after retirement.
Increasing numbers of women, fed up with the personal cost of their
"inconvenient large rubbish", are divorcing soon after the husband
Such things never used to happen in corporate Japan but now women are
becoming more independent, more confident and, frankly, fed up with
feeding, cleaning and rearing for some of the world's most
"It is not easy for a husband to try and spend time only with his wife
after retirement, he usually has not worked on their relationships," says
retirement counsellor Hiromi Ikuta. "The husband has devoted himself to
company, his wife has devoted herself to the family, they have had a
completely different life."
A recent survey by the Japan Association of Travel Agents showed 62 per
cent of men in their 50s wanted to travel with their wives for the new
millennium but only 47 per cent of women in the same age group wanted the
same thing. For couples in their 60s - prime retirement age - 75 per cent
of men wanted to travel with their spouses but only 53 per cent of women.
Another survey showed divorces among couples who had been together more
than 35 years increased 28 percentage points in 1998. Commonly, the women
say "it is no use feeling suddenly close after having left me alone for so
Now a growing trend is for men to maintain a secret stash of savings in
case of divorce as traditionally all household finances were controlled by
the wife. Under Japanese law, a divorced wife is entitled to 30 to 50 per
cent of her husband's salary as alimony.
The weekly magazine Shukan Hoseki recently explored the "divorce savings
plans" and found that 20,000 to 30,000 ($285 to $425) a month is common,
and men go to extraordinary lengths to conceal the plans, such as forging
Another major structural shift taking place in Japanese life, thanks in
part to the declining birth rate, in part to dissatisfaction with the
traditional life cycle of school, marriage and children, is the emergence
of "parasaito shinguru" - parasite singles.
These, typically, are women who don't fancy the prospect of giving up
independence and a career to marry a salaryman and elect to stay with
parents where they pay cheap board, if any, have few household chores and
get to spend all their money.
While such spendthrifts might be beneficial for Japan's weak consumption,
they have raised the ire of many social commentators, and Tokyo Gakugei
University professor Masahiro Yamada has written a book about them.
"Parasite singles are a phenomenon peculiar to Japan," he says. "In the US
people think it is shameful to depend on their parents and they can't
attract the opposite sex."
As more and more Japanese are only children, they are becoming more doted
upon and Yamada says parents allow them to stay home while the mother
provides care and the father money.
The parasites themselves are unrepentant. They point out that if they
they must give up their lifestyle while, with discrimination still
entrenched in the Japanese workforce, career prospects for a woman are not
"It rings true to me," says one 26-year-old female office worker. "I don't
do any housekeeping chores and my parents do everything. I pay some money
to my parents every month but I know they save it for me. On the one hand
don't think this is what an adult should do, on the other hand I don't
think I have to change."
Such attitudes incense Yamada, who has proposed a parent-child co-habitant
tax to force the parasites out into the real world.
For such a reactionary, this social phenomenon is threatening the economic
recovery because parasites don't buy large consumer goods and don't
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