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Thursday, May 12, 2005

BILINGUAL

Middle-aged men seek reconciliation with wives


Oh boy. It's happened at last: the junai (pure love) boom of last year that changed even the behavioral patterns of Sentagai no Jyoshikousei (the high school girls of Center-Gai, Shibuya) has reached the last and most difficult segment of the Japanese populace: the over-45 salaryman.

These were the people who had turned their noses at Fuyusona (the Korean love story, "Fuyu no Sonata"). They had snorted in contempt when their wives turned all starry-eyed at its star, Bae Yong Joon, and refused to listen when the conversation turned to household and family problems. On weekends, instead of spending time with their loved ones they had chosen to play golf with their nakama (buddies) or go out to nomikai (drinking parties) with the kaisha no onnanoko (girls from the office).

But now, the over-45 group are feeling hansei (regret) for their wayward behavior. It seems like they, too, want a slice of the junai pie and they're starting to realize that the place to look for it is right in the katei (home life).

According to a survey by a company called Senior Communication, more husbands have become interested in the issue of ningenkankei (human relationships) and ai (love) than their wives, and are subsequently more eager to repair the damage inflicted by years of bad marriage. But close to 30 percent of middle-aged wives say they've stopped expecting anything more from their menfolk than the monthly salary. At this point in their lives, moreover, they balk at the prospect of yarinaoshi (starting over) and the Herculean effort it entails.

According to my aunt, "Sono suji wa uso. Hotondo no onnaga so omotteiru hazuyo (that number is a lie. Most women must feel that way)." My aunt and uncle, both in their late 50s, have had separate bedrooms for the past 25 years. They're not exactly trading blows, but they can hardly be called the oshidori fufu (lovey-dovey couple)." In fact, it's hard to think of an instance when I've seen them in the same room at the same time.

"Otagai kansho shinainoga ichiban (it's best not to meddle in each other's affairs)" is my aunt's motto. She and her husband go on separate vacations, watch different programs on separate TVs and dine together only occasionally. My aunt says this is the only possible way to live with the same man for decades without "shouki wo ushinau (losing one's sanity)," and that the notion of junai between a married couple is a funpanmono (ridiculous notion).

Too cynical? Nah, it's the typical logic of the seasoned Japanese woman. They're too shrewd and too realistic to believe that love and marriage can occur simultaneously; they would rather just get through the toils of day-to-day kekkon seikatsu (married life) and pursue the junai fantasy through their DVDs.

The over-45 Japanese males, on the other hand, are a lot more romantic than they're given credit for. No longer young, and too shy or insecure to look for love elsewhere, they've begun to realize that their wives are really all they have.

The shukanshi (weekly news magazines) are full of articles with titles like: "Shokuba de Ikinokoru yorimo Kateide Ikinokoru Houga Taihen (Survival in the Home is Tougher Than Survival in the Workplace)" warning men that after risutora (corporate restructuring i.e. redundancy) or teinen (retirement), a wife is often a man's best and only friend. A woman can always start afresh but a man with no job and nowhere to go, can only chinbotsu suru (sink).

There are now support groups that coach these men on how to talk to their wives, express their emotions and rekindle the flame of love so that -- come retirement -- their wives won't suddenly walk out with their savings account and leave them to rot on the tatami mat.

Apparently the fear that such a thing could happen is so great it's affecting the sales volume of Tiffany's. "Saikin, chyunen no kappuru ga ooiyo (recently, I've noticed a lot of middle-aged couples)" says Ayako, a friend who works the counter. These couples are seen buying not-so-expensive pendants and plain but tasteful rings; the men almost always ask these to be gift-wrapped. And then blushingly, a little gruffly, they hand the boxes to their wives.

"Kokoro atatamaru koukei dayo (it's a heart-warming scene)" says Ayako. She and her colleagues have taken to calling these gifts "misutenaide purezento (don't-abandon-me presents)."



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