A South Korean couple skate on the ice
in front of lights put up to celebrate the Christmas holiday
season in Seoul, December 21, 2005. There are 21 anniversaries,
special days and celebrations a year for couples to shower
each other with affection and gifts in South Korea. Christmas
Eve is one of the biggest date nights of the year and it also
marks the season of high prices as many businesses try to
make a few extra won off lovers.
NEWLY retired engineer
Kotaro Toyohara arrives home for a family celebration after his
final day at work, clutching a ring for his wife, Yoko, his head
full of plans for the years of leisure ahead.
To his shock, Yoko blurts out that she wants a divorce.
That was the scenario for one of this season's most popular Japanese
television drama series, "Jukunen Rikon" or "Mature
Divorce," reflecting a phenomenon that many commentators fear
may balloon as Japan's baby-boom generation heads into old age.
"We get consultations like this," said Atsuko Okano, who
runs Carat Club, a divorce counselling service.
"Women are becoming more independent. When their husbands retire,
they realize they have 20 or 30 years of life ahead of them and
they don't want to carry on as before."
With a new law set to come into force in 2007 allowing ex-wives
to claim half their husband's pension, domestic media are warning
of a possible divorce boom.
The number of Japanese couples parting ways has risen rapidly over
the past 20 years to a 2002 peak of 290,000, while divorce among
those married more than 20 years has increased even faster.
Now figures are drifting downwards, but many commentators speculate
that women - who initiate the majority of divorces - are holding
out until 2007.
Some Japanese women see their husbands as an obstacle to enjoying
their sunset years.
With few hobbies or friends to turn to, many Japanese retirees,
often nicknamed "wet leaves" for their tendency to cling
to their wives, spend their time at home.
What's more , they expect their spouses to wait on them as they
did when they were bread-winners.
"This was my problem. My husband reached retirement and didn't
know what to do with himself, so he was always in the house,"
said Sayoko Nishida, author of a popular book called "Why are
retired husbands such a nuisance?."
"One of the worst things was always having to make his lunch,"
Many men set to retire in the next few years have lived largely
separate lives from their families for decades, preferring to devote
themselves to their jobs - an arrangement some wives start to like,
"I spent virtually all my time on my work," said one 54-year-old
school principal, whose wife divorced him and began a new career
five years ago after their children grew up. "All I did at
home was sleep. I quite understand how my wife felt."
The drama "Mature Divorce" ultimately paints marital break-up
in a positive light, with the couple remaining friends while Kotaro
plans to work as a volunteer in South America and Yoko starts a
new career with an upmarket retail chain.
Counsellors say a rise in similar cases in the real world could
be a disaster. Women may face poverty, since the job market is less
than welcoming to those who have devoted their lives to their families,
while half a meagre pension might not provide much of a living.
Men often end up lonely and in poor health.
"Japanese men's life expectancy falls by about 10 years if
they divorce late in life," said Nishida, who now runs regular
discussion days to help couples overcome the hurdle of retirement.
"That's because they can't do anything for themselves."
(Agencies via Xinhua)