TOKYO (WOMENSENEWS)--A group of Japanese men say they have the answer to marital bliss.
In September, they gathered in suits and ties outside a busy train station in Tokyo and chanted their Three Principles of Love: saying "sorry" without fear, saying "thank you" without hesitation and saying "I love you" without shame.
The group, which started with a handful of members in 1999, claims 800 members and expects that its program of seminars throughout the country this year will boost enrollment exponentially.
Members of the group, called the National Chauvinistic Husband's Association, have a goal of making their true feelings known to their wives, representing a push to change the nation's famously non-demonstrative culture.
The association says declarations of the Three Principles are what women want to hear, and husbands will have better marriages if they can say these words without wavering.
These formerly old-fashioned husbands are serious about becoming modern-style spouses and aim to give men a chance to learn how to communicate better with their families, have a relationship based on equality and become loving husbands.
Declining Marriage Rates
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Level 1: Is still in love with his wife after three years of marriage.
Level 2: Does a good job helping with housework.
Level 3: Has never cheated on his wife--or his wife has never caught him cheating.
Level 4: Can practice a "ladies first" policy.
Level 5: Can take a walk with his wife while holding hands.
Level 6: Can listen to his wife seriously.
Level 7: Can solve problems between his wife and his mother in one night.
Level 8: Can say "thank you" without hesitation.
Level 9: Can say "sorry" without fear.
Level 10: Can say "I love you" without embarrassment.
They even hope they'll help curb the nation's declining marriage rate, fueled not only by an increase in divorce but also by delayed marriage among women, whose mean age for marrying has increased 2.5 years in the past two decades, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
The more educated a Japanese woman, the more likely she will wait for wedlock; among women aged 25 to 29, 40 percent are single, but among university graduates of similar ages 54 percent are single.
"If husbands will not change, the future will be very dark for Japan, so we are enticing men to join our group and learn to change their attitudes," says 54-year-old Shuichi Amano, who founded Japan's National Chauvinistic Husband's Association in 1999 after his wife threatened to divorce him. "Families will adjust and then Japan will change in a positive way."
Ito Itamoto, a Tokyo marriage counselor, agrees.
"Japanese women are choosing to marry later, so they can only have one child, or not marry at all," Itamoto says. "Seventy percent of divorces are filed by women. It used to be because of domestic violence or gambling, but these days it is because women realize their husband's priority is the company they work for and not their families. The women also say men do not know how to communicate."
Amano, a resident of Fukuoka City, Kyuushu Island, says his wife woke him up to the need save his marriage.
"It happened when I came home late one evening from work and asked my wife if she thought it was strange that suddenly all the middle-aged men around me were getting divorced," he said. "My wife said, 'Well, I think you will be next.'"
'Broke Out in Cold Sweat'
Amano said he was shocked, he broke out in a cold sweat and his heart "stopped" because he knew his wife was serious. After that initial jolt, he reflected on his past relationship with his wife and daughters. He realized as a busy writer and editor for a publishing company, he was a typical chauvinist and, furthermore, he took pride in it.
"I realized I had only communicated three things to my wife: 'furo,' 'meshi' and 'neru,' which mean 'bath,' 'dinner' and 'sleep,'" he said. "It is the typical way for a strong husband to communicate with his family."
Amano began a program of "self-improvement." He washed dishes, took out the garbage, cleaned the bathtub and paid attention to his wife.
His wife even started smiling at him, which she never did before.
"I cannot fully forgive him for his past actions, but I'm trying to accept him little by little," Amano's wife, Keiko Amano, told Women's eNews.
The newly reformed Amano passed on what he learned to other men through the National Chauvinistic Husband's Association, which started off with a few members in 1999 and expects to grow to 16,000 members throughout Japan this year.
The group provides a place for men to get together regularly about once a month to talk about difficulties with their wives.
Amano, the group's president, says men don't know how to communicate well because they don't have experience initiating relationships and communicating with others, and have only been trained to achieve in the workplace and to be loyal to the company.
Oblivious to Wives' Feelings
Amano and his friends say they were guilty of being oblivious to their wives' feelings and problems developing in their marriages.
Amano also witnessed the misery that some middle-age men suffered when their wives left them.
"They didn't know how to dress, cook or do anything for themselves," he said.
The group provides 460 tips to help members rise in the rankings.
One is to leave a day planner at home so she can see notes expressing his concern for her. Another is sending her a thank-you card on her birthday or giving her pocket money before rebuking her. Other advice includes doing more household chores.
The main activity of the group is to measure how well the members are getting along with their wives by ranking them in a 10-tier system. Amano and other senior members rank the new members, who report on their own progress.
Shochi Oba, a 46-year-old editor, was put at level 3 when he first joined the group, at a time when his relationship with his wife and daughter had begun to deteriorate. At the time he said that his wife should always obey him. Since belonging to the group, he has reformed and now gets up early in the mornings to see his wife and daughter and even does the dishes.
Yoshimichi Itahashi, 65, is the only member who has advanced to level 10. His secret to a blissful marriage, he said, is understanding his wife's feelings: her loneliness, sadness and complaints. And he can tell his wife that he loves her without embarrassment.
Catherine Makino is a freelance writer in Tokyo. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Japan Times, the Asian Wall Street Journal and the China Morning Post.
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