BBC News
Japanese men take marriage lessons
By Chris Hogg
BBC Tokyo Correspondent

One of Japan's 'marriage-saving' clubs
Men share marriage concerns in the bar

Japanese men are learning to be better husbands amid speculation that a new law allowing wives to keep half of their partner's pensions if they divorce will spark a rash of marital splits.

It is a cold Saturday evening and I am standing in the rain in Tokyo's entertainment district.

Glamorous girls in thigh high boots strut past with barely a backwards glance at the men who cannot take their eyes off them.

This is not what I have come to see though.

Instead, I climb the steep stairs to the top floor of a small Izakaya or Japanese pub.

In the battle of the sexes these men are waving a white flag

Here, a group of 10 men have gathered, to drink, to smoke, to eat and, most importantly, to learn how to save their marriages.

This is the Tokyo chapter of what might best be described as the 'National Chauvinistic Husbands Association'.

Its founder Shuichi Amano made the long journey up from the southern island of Kyushu for tonight's meeting.

He is a large self-confident man who sits, as befits his status, at the centre of the long table. This is a man comfortable with being the centre of attention.

They begin with a declaration of their three basic rules for love.

They chant in unison. Say thank you without hesitation. Say sorry without fear. Say I love you without being ashamed.

Japanese woman learn to dance
Women are anxious to keep their independence

People sitting at nearby tables go quiet but then the women give them a round of applause.

The chants begin again. The three basic rules for not winning. We do not win. We cannot win. We do not want to win.

In the battle of the sexes these men are waving a white flag. But are they wimps? The man in charge, Mr Amano, does not think so.

He started the group eight years ago after finding out that three or four of his friends had been told by their wives that they wanted a divorce.

When he mentioned this to his wife she told him he might be next. He was shocked.

"I started doing the household chores right away" he told me.

This was a new experience for both of them.

But the men who had gathered here to learn from their guru seemed as thirsty for his wisdom as they were for the beers

At first, his wife was suspicious.

"What have you done wrong?" she said.

But then gradually their relationship improved. He started to share his techniques with other people. Word spread and today he says he has more than 1,200 members across Japan.

Mr Amano says he has created a network where for the first time men can share their problems and advise each other how to solve them.

Women can always find a couple of friends to talk to when things are going wrong, he says. But men, Japanese men especially, find it harder to share their emotional concerns.

Listening to him talk was 28-year-old Yohei Takayama. He has been married just six months, but he told me he had joined the group because he was worried already that his wife might try to divorce him.

'Smileage' points

Why were Japanese men such bad husbands I asked him.

"It's the way of the Samurai" he replied without a smirk or a grin.

Traditionally he said, men went out to work, the women stayed at home and kept house. Even today, for many, that is still true.

That is a pretty fair description of a lot of Japanese marriages, particularly among the older generations.

But now Yohei like the others gathered around the table is employing some of Mr Amano's techniques in a bid to save his marriage.

He tries to win smileage - one point for every time he makes his wife smile, by doing a good deed, or even cracking a joke with her.

Trader in Japan
Japan's work culture puts a strain on marriages

Mr Amano believes if you can build up a smileage total of around forty a month you will have enough credit for coming home drunk once a fortnight, for example.

Towards the end of the evening certificates were presented. The association has 10 levels of attainment, and much like in Sumo wrestling very few reach the highest levels.

The criteria for the different ranks were written out on cards displayed at the end of the table.

To be recognised at the lowest rank you have to love your wife after three years of marriage and help with the household chores.

'Earnest efforts'

Mr Amano himself has only reached the fifth level, which you attain when you can hold hands with your wife in public.

The highest or tenth level is reserved for those members who can say I love you without embarrassment. It is an accolade many strive for but so far only a tiny proportion of the members has achieved.

It would be easy to poke fun at their earnest efforts to learn behaviour that many others find natural. But the men who had gathered here to learn from their guru seemed as thirsty for his wisdom as they were for the beers.

By nine o'clock though it was time to pack up and go home.

When you are out drinking, and learning how to treat your wife well, it does not do to keep her up waiting.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 31 March, 2007 at 1200 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.