Sunday, June 6, 2010
Posted by ML Awanohara
Jukunen rikon gets less attention than that other growing category of Japanese divorce known as "Narita divorce," when a newlywed couple bids sayonara at Narita New Tokyo International Airport, having just returned from a honeymoon trip outside of Japan. During the honeymoon, it dawns on the newlywed bride that she's made a terrible mistake in hitching her wagon to a boring salaryman.
Grey divorce, by contrast, occurs when a middle-aged Japanese woman, having toughed it out with such a salaryman for a good 30+ years, can't face living with him for another 30+ years upon his retirement--Japanese are of course blessed (cursed?) with having the world's longest life expectancy for both sexes.
Whether it's an early or late divorce, Japanese women tend to initiate the divorce proceedings.
I have no idea whether Tipper initiated this idea with Al, but their talk about having grown apart (and the fact that there doesn't seem to be anyone else) suggests to me that we have a classic jukunen rikon on our hands.
So rather than feeling shocked or saddened, let's think creatively about Al and Tipper's announcement. If we're lucky, perhaps it will:
1) inspire an American television drama similar to the Japanese drama, Jukunen Rikon (illustrated above--actually, doesn't that couple look a little like an Asian Al and Tipper?).
2) lead Tipper (or another woman of her status) to write a bestseller +/or start up a blog, to help guide other older American women who are thinking of changing their lives. She could even borrow the (translated) title from one such Japanese book: Why Are Retired Husbands Such a Nuisance? Chapter headings (blog post tags) could include "freedom," "identity," and "need for fulfillment" for starters...
3) raise our awareness that a drift to older divorce is happening throughout the Western world (similar trends have been noted in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Italy, and France)--thus that if it comes to a relationship near you, it's not that unusual and certainly not the end of the world. Dierdre Bair makes this point very well in her recent New York Times op-ed, "The 40-Year Itch." Upon learning that divorce lawyers' waiting rooms are coming to resemble geriatrics units, Bair decided to write a book on the phenomenon. She talked to hundreds of men and women who had divorced after long marriages. "For them, divorce meant not failure and shame, but opportunity," she reports, going on to say we should wish Al and Tipper well as they begin new chapters of their lives. Or, as their counterparts in Japan might say, gambatte kudasai.