Weekend Beat/ Husbands reform to keep from getting dumped


Shuichi Amano, 54, came home from work late one night seven years ago. Earlier in the day, he'd heard that another of his friends had divorced. It was weird. Many men about his age were seeing their marriages fall apart. Amano couldn't figure it out. The wives were usually initiating the divorces. What was going on?

Without much thought, he brought up the subject with his wife. "Don't you think it rather strange that men all around me are getting divorced all of a sudden?" he asked.

Silence. Hmm. She may not have heard me, Amano thought. He repeated the question. Then, after a pause, his wife turned and looked him straight in the eye. "Well, I think you're next."

"I broke out in a cold sweat. She was serious. I could see it in her eyes. This was no joke," Amano said during a recent interview in Tokyo.

Amano compares his wife's bombshell to a near-death experience. "Although I've never had that experience, I'm pretty sure that's what it would feel like," he says. "When my wife spoke, my life flashed before my eyes."

Divorce was the last thing Amano had in mind. What had he done wrong? That night he reflected on the past. Yes, he had to admit, he could think of a few things that might have led to his wife's irritation.

Degrees of marital enlightenment
(from lowest to higest)

1st dan I still love my love after three years of marriage.
2st dan I'm good at helping out around the house.
3st dan I've never had an affair,or my wife hasn't noticed.
4st dan I'm carrying out a "ladies first" attitude.
5st dan I can take a walk with my loving wife while holding her hand.
6st dan I can listen attentively to what my loving wife has to say.
7st dan I can solve my wife's problems with my mother in one night.
8st dan I can say, "Thank you," without hesitation.
9st dan I can say, "Sorry," without fear.
10st dan I can say, "I love you," without blushing.

A busy writer and editor for a publishing firm in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, Amano was rarely at home. And when he was home, he was bossy. His favorite words for the first 20 years of marriage were "furo, meshi, biru" (bath, dinner, beer). Taken collectively, they describe overbearing husbands with poor communication skills.

A Kyushu-danji (the term refers to macho men from the Kyushu region), he says he took pride in being a teishu-kanpaku (chauvinistic) husband.

Amano seldom took his wife or his three daughters anywhere. "Looking back now, I was a total jerk," he says. "There was no decent conversation at home and certainly no humor. Returning late from work was normal. I even had affairs during business trips."

Amano never questioned his attitude or actions. He gave no thought to possible consequences. Self-absorbed, he was oblivious to the fact that his wife was sick of him. He had no clue she was beginning to exhibit signs of depression.

But his wife's statement that divorce was in the cards focused his attention. He knew how miserable men--especially middle-aged men like himself--became after their wives left them.

"Most are helpless without their wives. Their lives become so lonely and sad after they divorce," Amano says.

Amano decided he would do anything to keep the marriage together. It didn't hurt, he says, that he really did love his wife and his kids. He immediately embarked on a self-improvement program.

First thing the next morning, he took out the garbage. He washed the dishes. He then started "dating" his wife again. The change was drastic. His wife learned to smile again. There was communication and laughter in the family.

"It felt so good," Amano says. "I realized that I knew nothing about my wife. A husband is responsible for his wife's demeanor. If the wife is gloomy, it's the husband's fault."

Looking around, Amano realized there were many men making the same mistakes he'd made. "While women improve over the years, men are left behind," Amano says. "Women are exposed to new ideas through the media and through communication with other women. Men have fewer opportunities. Many end up stuck in a rut, hanging on to outdated beliefs."

Following his personal awakening, Amano decided to see if he could pass on what he'd learned. He says he believed men needed the networking opportunities women had, if only so they could become aware of their own shortcomings.

In 1999, Amano established Zenkoku Teishu-kanpaku Kyokai, the national chauvinistic association, known as Zen-tei-kyo for short.

The group's name could be easily misinterpreted.

While it sounds like a bunch of men determined to hang on to old values and dominate their spouses, Amano says, there's an unstated message in the title. Implicit in the Japanese is the concept that men are on the bottom. "Zen-tei-kyo is a group of men who learn that good husbands are happy to be henpecked by their wives," he says.

The group, based in Kurume, started out with only two members. Now, with the recent jukunen-rikon middle-age divorce phenomenon making more men aware of their vulnerability, membership has expanded to about 250 nationwide. Moreover, there are approximately 600 wannabe members across the country seeking advice on how to get along with their wives.

The group's main activity is regular get-togethers at local izakaya Japanese-style pubs. They discuss what their wives are like and how to deal with them depending on the situation.

"For example, we've come up with a rule never to sit opposite your wife when she says, 'Could you please sit down. I have something to say to you,'" Amano says.

"In most cases, their eyes are too terrifying to face, and it's most likely things will start flying across the room at you."

Amano says the best thing to do on these occasions is to sit beside your wife, hold her hand until her anger passes, and then apologize profusely before she even brings up what you did wrong.

The group has two separate 10-level dan rankings to grade its members' relationships with their wives. The first system is not actually used. It exists simply to allow beginners to hold on to their pride while they make attitude adjustments. At least in their minds they can remain the king of the castle.

The other ranks--the real ones--allow members to measure how well they're getting along with their wives. Amano and other senior members rank the newcomers.

Men who still love their wives after three years of marriage qualify for shodan, the lowest level. To be awarded the prestigious 10th dan, you must be able to say, "I love you," without blushing. Not a particularly strict requirement for some, but a terrifying thought for many middle-aged Japanese men.

"I'm now at the fifth rank, given to those who can take a walk with their wives, hand in hand," Amano says. "I still have a long way to go." So far, no member has reached the 10th dan.

The group holds conventions now and then. In January, the group held its seventh convention in Kurume.

Next month, Zen-tei-kyo is planning to hold its first Tokyo convention in the Shinbashi district--an area known for its hangouts for middle-age salaried employees.

"We're expecting 400 men to join us," Amano says. "We might even have a group chant in front of Shinbashi's steam locomotive monument.''

Being a model husband and teaching others keeps Amano quite busy. He writes a column for a local monthly magazine. He has also published two books. His third, "Imasara Kikenai Tsuma no Arekore" (Things I can't possibly ask my wife after all these years) will be published by Kodansha in September.

He also answers questions from men and women having problems at home on his group's Web site.

"There are of course very stubborn men out there, often dankai-no-sedai (baby boomers), who refuse to change their ways. But I tell them life would be so much more fun if they could become a little bit flexible," Amano says. "The wives want to smile and it's the husbands that can make it happen."

Amano's dream is to attract

1 million members. "For every social problem--say the increase in juvenile crime--you find factors attributable to a disrupted family," he says. "I think that if conservative men don't change their ways, Japan will never become a better place.

"For that reason, I'm asking every married Japanese man to fall in love with his wife again and rediscover how much better it can be."(IHT/Asahi: July 15,2006)