Japanese Wedding Vernacular: Jukunen Rikon
After exploring shotgun weddings and airport divorces of the boomin’ ‘80s bubble, it’s time to look for a trend that’s slightly more en courant. It’s widely known that Japan—like many other developed countries—is facing some issues with a gap in workforce demand and supply as its ageing population grows… and…ages. However, there’s another problem facing those hitting their golden years—and it hits a lot closer to home than “general economic decline”.
This week we’ll explore a similar—yet different—term, along with a couple of sub terms:
Direct translation: Mature/Middle-aged Divorce
A translation that makes sense: Silver divorce, late-life divorce
As the name implies, it’s a divorce between an older couple that usually has been married for a long time. Although the cut off point for couples’ ages seems to be mid-40s and upwards, most often these divorces occur around the time the husband retires.
定年離婚 Teinen RikonーHas a similar meaning to jukunen rikon, but is more explicitly related to the retirement factor. “Teinen” means retirement age.
還暦離婚 Kanreki Rikonー60th birthday divorce. “Kanreki” means 60th birthday. It’s a pretty straightforward term, if a bit harsh. One can only hope that the divorce papers aren’t filed on anyone’s birthday.
So what does this all mean? Why is this a common enough phenomenon to have a specific word?
Japan, like most industrialized countries, has an ageing population, so if anyone is going to get divorced, it’s going to be the majority…right? However, the majority of divorces still occur in the early years of marriage (or even sooner if it’s a Narita rikon!). Jukunen divorces have increased dramatically in recent years, but are still just a small percentage of the national divorce rate.
In 2007, the Old-Age Pension Division Reform Bill was enacted allowing women to receive up to half of their husbands’ pensions after retirement. This is one of the reasons why it’s the wife who initially files most jukunen divorces. Until 2007, wives were not entitled to a single yen of company pensions their husbands received and if divorced, were forced to live on a state pension of about ￥60,000. Although many men were required to pay maintenance to their ex-wives, many didn’t do so and forcing them to commit to the payments was difficult.
Having said that, because law is tricky, the “up to half of the husbands pension” is not always reflected in reality—both parties involved must decide the actual amount and proportion. So although the 2007 law may have changed some people’s minds about divorce, the divorce rate did not really change due to this one factor. Instead, it seems to be more closely related to the fact that divorce has become less of a taboo, and people find they don’t have to put up with unreasonable behavior of their partners forever.
To follow up on that, here’s a list of reasons for jukunen divorces, as cited by divorcees themselves. Note that since in the majority of these cases it is the wife who files for divorce, most reasons will be wife-centric.
Reasons for Jukunen Divorces
- Different values—This is by far the most cited reason. While this is in itself vague, looking a little bit closer it often translates to “things the wife had to put up with” during marriage: everything ranging from late working hours and lack of support at home with chores and child raising, to infidelity and monetary issues.
- Difference in character/personality—Again, a matter of not being able to put up with someone’s personal idiosyncrasies. This can mean violent temper, or simply not willing to adjust one’s thinking or habits according to certain situations.
- Trouble with the in-laws—Although many people can argue they don’t get along with their in-laws, the problem is further compounded as the parents and parents-in-law age and need to be taken care of. Traditionally the wives are left at home to care for their in-laws—in cases where they have health issues, this can be a 24 hour job. At-home nurse aids are expensive, as are full-time care facilities. Thus, it’s left to the family members (or in this case, the wife of the son(s)) to take care of the ageing parents and in-laws.
- No conversation—While many couples are happy to spend time together without conversing, if there is a great decrease in interaction, it often leaves one partner (again, usually the wife) dissatisfied and lonely.
- Debt, monetary issues—Gambling, borrowing a lot of money to pay for expensive habits, drinking binges etc. Not being able to pay for normal household expenses due to heavy loans and unnecessary expenditure is one reason cited for divorce.
- No housework—This is a common complaint, and a more noticeable problem when the husband retires; he has more free time but doesn’t help out at all. Or, there are those who do help out, but do it so badly or take so long it doesn’t make a difference.
- Emotional or physical abuse—Continually being called “fat”, or receiving complaints like “You were so thin when we married, but just got fatter”, “You’re a fool, an idiot” are not uncommon complaints in jukunen divorces. Also, an increase in physical abuse and violence (often connected with alcoholism) is frequently noted.
- Infidelity, flirtation with others—Many women stated they put up with infidelity as long as their children were around, for their children’s sakes, as well as consideration to how they would be perceived in their local PTA group and other social circles. (Many PTA groups can be rather vocal about things they don’t like—this includes single mothers; remember dekichatta kekkon?) Also, even though they could endure it for some years, the trust has disappeared in the relationship so there doesn’t seem much point in continuing.
- Fallen in love with someone else—With the spread of the internet, opportunities to encounter new people increases, and especially if things are not working well at home, finding a new lover may trigger divorce proceedings.
- Lingering at home all day—this is quite possibly the most significant reason cited for divorce, as there are even more phrases to showcase how retired husbands are perceived at home. Sodaigomi (large, useless trash) and nure ochiba (wet leaves that stick to the ground, even after sweeping at them vigorously) are two rather unflattering (but very evocative) nicknames coined about these men. They have no hobbies, no lives outside of work to keep them occupied. They may even request to tag along to the wife’s events where they are not welcome, then have no interest in and act bored once there. Many women feel that they suddenly have another child around, which they have neither time nor inclination to take care of.
And there you have it, a short summary on late-life divorces in Japan. As mentioned earlier, these don’t create a huge percentage of divorces in Japan, but the proportional increase has been significant and certainly conspicuous in the last 20-30 years. Especially of note is the rise of cooking courses targeted at older men—now that they are on their own, they have to look how to cook for themselves, as well as build a new social circle.
Further reading (mostly in Japanese):
Previous Japanese Wedding Vernacular posts: