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October 20, 2005

Japanese Women Tired Of Playing Servant To Their Retired Husbands

I'm not surprised to see this happening. Please see my previous posts about Japanese women and marriage - [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6].

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Stress Disorder Diagnosed in Many Women After Spouses Retire

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 17, 2005; Page A01

TOKYO -- Sakura Terakawa, 63, describes her four decades of married
life in a small urban apartment as a gradual transition from wife to
mother to servant. Communication with her husband started with love
letters and wooing words under pink cherry blossoms. It devolved over
time, she said, into mostly demands for his evening meals and
nitpicking over the quality of her housework.

So when he came home one afternoon three years ago, beaming, and
announced he was ready to retire, Terakawa despaired.

" 'This is it,' I remember thinking. 'I am going to have to divorce
him now,' " Terakawa recalled. "It was bad enough that I had to wait
on him when he came home from work. But having him around the house
all the time was more than I could possibly bear."

Concerned about her financial future if she divorced, Terakawa stuck
with their marriage -- only to become one of an extraordinary number
of elderly Japanese women stricken with a disorder that experts here
have recently begun diagnosing as retired husband syndrome, or RHS.

Feeling chained to the tradition of older women remaining utterly
dedicated to their husbands' well-being, Terakawa said, she devoted
herself to her spouse. Retirement cut him off from his longtime office
social network, leaving him virtually friendless and her with the
strain of filling his empty time. Within a few weeks, she said, he was
hardly leaving the house, watching television and reading the
newspaper -- and barking orders at her. He often forbade her to go out
with her friends. When he did let her go, Terakawa said, she had to
prepare all his meals before leaving.

After several months, she developed stomach ulcers, her speech began
to slur and rashes broke out around her eyes. When doctors discovered
polyps in her throat but could find no medical reason for her sudden
burst of ailments, she was referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed
stress-related RHS.

Terakawa began receiving therapy from Nobuo Kurokawa, a physician who
is one of Japan's leading RHS experts. Kurokawa coined the term
retired husband syndrome in a presentation to the Japanese Society of
Psychosomatic Medicine in 1991, leading to its use in books, journals
and mainstream media here. Confirming Terakawa's account in an
interview, Kurokawa said he offered her the same advice he has given
numerous other older women in the same position.
"Come to therapy," he said. "Then spend as much time as possible away
from your husband."

In Japan, retirement has become a risky business for many wives, who
are finding the stress of their husband's presence at home
unendurable. Though after-retirement stress is a common problem in
most developed countries as husbands and wives try to balance
relationships in their twilight years, analysts say Japan has become
extraordinary for myriad reasons -- including the fact that one-fifth
of Japanese are now over 65, the highest percentage in the world.

Even as gender roles have changed for younger people here, with women
entering the workforce in record numbers, older Japanese have remained
far more rigid. As with most Japanese men of his generation,
Terakawa's husband demanded strict obedience from her, she said, even
while he spent his life almost entirely apart from her and their three
children. He left home for the office just after dawn and stayed out
late socializing after work. He even took most of his vacations with
colleagues and clients. Those long absences, she said, made his
presence around the house after retirement even more jolting.

"I had developed my own life, my own way of doing things, in the years
when he was never home," Terakawa said. She said she cannot even stand
to look at her husband across the dinner table now and sits at an
angle so she can stare out a window instead.

Part of the problem is that the nature of Japanese family life has
changed dramatically over the past two decades. The tradition of
retired parents living with their married adult children is rapidly
disappearing, with new generations remaining single well into their
forties and modern young couples choosing greater privacy. As older
couples are forced to spend more time alone together, the divorce rate
among those married more than 20 years -- a group that includes most
of Japan's married senior citizens -- is now the fastest-growing in
the country, more than doubling to 41,958 divorces in 2000 compared
with 20,435 cases in 1985, according to government statistics.

Kurokawa estimates that as many as 60 percent of the wives of retired
men may suffer from some degree of RHS.

With a record number of Japanese men set to retire -- almost 7 million
from 2007 to 2009 -- experts warn that the disorder has the potential
to explode. The Japanese boast the longest lifespan on Earth, yet
older Japanese men still cling to the outmoded idea of wives as
servile attendants -- leaving many elderly women to view their
longevity as more of a curse than a blessing. One survey from the
Tokyo-based advertising firm Hakuhodo showed that while 85 percent of
soon-to-retire husbands are delighted by the idea of retirement, 40
percent of their wives described themselves as "depressed" by the
prospect.

Fear of husbands coming home to roost has become a hot topic in Japan.
Bookstores are loaded with self-help titles for elderly women
attempting to cope with spouses who have turned into sodaigomi -- or
bulky trash.

"This is a severe problem for us," said Sayoko Nishida, 63, an author
of two books on the topic who has organized Zen retreats to help older
couples deal with RHS. "One of the main issues is that we are not a
culture where people directly express their feelings, and many older
women have nowhere to turn to share their anxiety."

Tomohisa Kotake, a 66-year-old retired banker, knows the story well.
"At first, I was a typical retired Japanese husband -- I didn't do
anything for myself and asked my wife to serve me," he said. It
immediately strained his marriage. Part of the problem, he said, was
that his wife still had many female friends, but most of his friends
had been work acquaintances. Pushed by his wife, he finally joined one
of the more than 3,000 support groups that have recently sprouted up
nationwide, aimed at "re-training" retired Japanese men to be more
independent and communicative with their wives.

Kotake's group -- Men in the Kitchen -- taught him how to shop, cook
and clean for himself. He now does the dishes and cooks for his wife
at least once a week. "I will never forget the look of happiness in
her eyes the first time I cleaned the house while she was taking a
bath," he said.

Kotake's wife, Nobuko Kotake, 62, now speaks glowingly of her husband.
She said she had given up many outings with female friends to spend
more time with him.

"By Japanese standards, we are still relatively young even though we
are retired," Tomohisa Kotake said. "We have a long life ahead of us.
It is better that we spend that time enjoying each other. Doing more
around the house is a small price for me to pay."

Posted on October 20, 2005 at 10:07 PM | Permalink

Comments

"Pushed by his wife, he finally joined one of the more than 3,000 support groups that have recently sprouted up nationwide, aimed at "re-training" retired Japanese men to be more independent and communicative with their wives."

See even in Japan they're male chauvinists, blaming women for all the divorces! They want us to believe that if women would have done something sooner the divorce rate wouldn't be so high, now.

Another thing they don't point out in this article is MARRIED women in Japan have the highest standard of living in the world.(beside maybe BeverlyHills), but they decide to divorce they become the poorest women. They're lucky if they can move-in with relatives.

Posted by: at Oct 22, 2005 2:38:48 PM

True

Posted by: kapil at Oct 27, 2005 6:09:24 AM

So what are you saying, they shouldn't divorce their husbands? That's dumb. I'd rather be poor and divorced than wealthy slave!

Posted by: pearl wisdom at Oct 30, 2005 12:11:57 PM