Yoji, 57, was looking forward to retirement. It’s only three years away. For all his adult life, it’s been nothing but work, nothing but the company. Soon it would be time to think of his family, of himself. He would make up for lost time.
He took his wife into his confidence. “We’ll travel, go to hot spring resorts. Go dancing. Whatever you want. Once I’m off the treadmill, your happiness will come first.”
Her reply stunned him. “If you’re really thinking of my happiness,” she said coldly, “you’ll die right this minute.”
She wasn’t joking. “You’ve made my life a living hell and now, all of a sudden, ‘Your happiness comes first!’ It’s a little late for that!”
There are many wives like her across the country, says Shukan Gendai (March 6)—and many husbands like Yoji, who simply don’t have a clue. A government survey last year seems to support the conclusion that a significant number of wives—though by no means a majority—harbor a seething hatred for their husbands.
The survey polled 1,077 men, 17.8% of whom say they’ve suffered some form of abuse—physical, psychological or sexual—at the hands of their wives. One husband in a thousand, the survey found, has felt his wife was ready to kill him.
It’s a situation more prevalent among elderly couples, but not exclusive to them, as Shukan Gendai hears from Akira, an IT executive in his mid-40s. He, his wife and his elementary-school daughter lived quietly and, he had thought, more or less happily for years. A turning point seems to have come when Akira’s firm abruptly turned prosperous. Orders were pouring in. It meant better pay but also heavier responsibilities, and longer—much longer—working hours.
He would get home in the small hours, and be on his way a very few hours later. Rare days off were spent on the golf course with clients. His wife would say, “Let’s take a little trip somewhere;” “let’s go out for dinner, it’s our anniversary.” The reply was always the same: “Sorry, can’t. Busy.”
Late one night he woke from a sound sleep to find his wife at the bedside brandishing a gas lighter. “Die,” she shouted. “Just die!”
The story as the magazine tells it ends there, so presumably it passed without death, injury or flaming destruction, but it must have been a harrowing experience.
A similar episode that occurred in January last year ended less benignly—the 66-year-old husband was severely burned. The couple was apparently notorious in their Tokyo neighborhood for the intensity of their quarreling; still, none of the neighbors ever thought it would come to that.
Shukan Gendai challenges its readers: “Is your wife ready to set you on fire?”
A Tokyo divorce lawyer the magazine talks to speaks of women who come in asking, “Is there a legal way to make a husband vanish?”
There may be, in fact. Article 30 of the Civil Code says that if a husband has not been heard from in seven years and it cannot be determined whether he is alive or dead, the wife can obtain an appropriate declaration to that effect, which frees her to take possession of her husband’s property, and to remarry if she has a mind to. Given the way couples seem to feel toward each other beneath the unruffled surface, and given the ongoing spate of retirement as the nation ages and ages, it seems reasonable to expect increasingly creative applications of that article.