Editor’s Note: For more on the many different ways humans negotiate romance and relationships, watch “Christiane Amanpour: Sex and Love Around the World” Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET.
“Go home early.”
That’s the first nugget of wisdom 58-year-old Kiyo Yamana will give to anyone wondering how he and his wife, Kimi, are so blissfully happy after 15 years of marriage.
It’s a lesson the Tokyo-based project producer learned the hard way during his first marriage. “I used to believe it was more valuable to work a long time than to come home early,” Kiyo explained to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in her new series, “Christiane Amanpour: Sex and Love Around the World.”
That union unraveled within 8 years. So when Kiyo decided to give matrimony another try with Kimi, 55, he was determined to do better – to be, as he calls it, an aisaika, or “adoring husband.”
Now, he “comes back to share (the) dinner table with me,” Kimi told Amanpour.
Kiyo’s not the only Japanese partner who’s put work first. “Sometimes, Japanese men don’t come back until 10 o’ clock in the evening,” Kimi described – and much has been made over the last decade about how hard it is to get married and stay married in Japan.
It’s against this backdrop that Kiyo and Kimi have turned themselves into something like marital mentors. After marrying Kimi, Kiyo founded the Japan Aisaika Organization, or JAO, to celebrate and encourage the lifestyle of the “adoring husband.”
That led to the creation of “Beloved Wives Day,” when husbands are encouraged to show up and say “I love you” to their partners in as grand and bombastic a fashion as possible.
It may sound simplistic, but when you listen to what these Japanese couples have to say about that three-word phrase …
… you realize how much Kiyo and Kimi are helping to redefine romance in Japan.
Here’s what the Yamanas have to say about marriage and the “5 golden rules” they believe make it work. This interview has been edited for clarity and length:
Kiyo, why did you create the JAO?
After I got married with Kimi, people started to say to me, “You really adore your wife!” I took it as a nice compliment, but generally, the word aisaika (adoring husband) seemed to have slightly negative connotations, like not so competent at work or being a little wimp-ish.
I felt adoring and treating your wife with loving respect deserved better recognition. And also, the founding of JAO was my personal declaration that I approach my relationships differently from how I had done before. I created a card as the chief of JAO, and started giving it along with my business card. I was basically doing it for fun and not for recruiting membership, but many of the men I gave the card to would start pouring out their difficulties with their wives on the spot and wanted to join the club. With no recruiting, we currently have about 200 members.
What was the first “Beloved Wives Day” like?
Kimi: For the first Beloved Wives Day, we had a campaign to coax husbands to go home by 8:00 p.m. and have a romantic evening with their wives. We called it “Mission Go-Home-Early.” Most of the Japanese men spend extra hours at work, so we wanted to create a reason for them to change the habit.
We also came up with the “5 Golden Rules for Devoted Husbands,” which are:
- Go home early, before 8 p.m.
- Create a relaxing atmosphere
- Call your wife by her name
- Look into her eyes
- Listen to what she has to say
Those guidelines and rules are actually how Kiyo and I lived since we got married, and we decided to summarize and share them as people were asking why we were so happy.
Did both of you always know you wanted to be married?
Kimi: Yes. I never thought I would stay single. I had been proposed (to) before I met Kiyo, but I was too busy building up my career. A part of me always felt that I would lose my freedom if I got married. Then, one day, I thought to myself, “What is one thing I have not done in my life that I may feel happy doing now?” “Marriage!” was what came to my mind. I wasn’t dating anyone at that time, but shortly afterward, I came to meet Kiyo for the second time.
Kiyo: Not really, until I met Kimi.
How did you two meet?
Kimi: A mutual friend organized a dinner, and we were both invited. I was enjoying the evening with other members of the dinner, and Kiyo was very late to come in that night. We politely exchanged business cards, but, honestly, I was not interested in him or what he was doing at that time. Kiyo thought, “She is good looking but largely ignoring me.” So that was that.
A few years later, that mutual friend sent an email to all his friends to say that a very good TV program was going to air and that Kiyo was behind it. I did not even remember Kiyo’s face, but being a consultant, I had a habit of always sending a reply. I sent Kiyo a very short comment once I saw it. Kiyo says he received over 150 emails about the program, but my insight was so different that he had to ask the mutual friend to know more about Kimi.
Kiyo: Kimi was like a ray of light when I was hitting the rock bottom. I could talk about almost anything with her, and she could really understand what I was saying. I felt appreciated, and, for the first time, I was able to take an honest look at myself and see why my first marriage had to end the way it did. I could see what I had been doing, and I was determined to change. By this time, I found myself in love with Kimi and I wanted to create a new life with her.
Kimi: We had our wedding six months from our first date.
Did your parents’ relationship impact the way you viewed romantic relationships?
Kimi: As (with) most Japanese families, my parents were mostly there as “Mom and Dad” to me and my brother. I do not recall much of public displays of affection between them. I think my parents had their own ups and downs, but they were generally content and happy.
Kiyo: My parents did not look happy as husband and wife. My mother was always busy taking care of the family and helping my father’s work, and I do not remember them enjoying their time together as a couple. My father was a dominating type and did not really listen to (what) my mother had to say. As a child, I thought “I never want to be like my father,” but I wasn’t really listening during my first marriage.
How do you think Japanese culture around love, dating and marriage has changed over time?
Kimi: Back in the old times when arranged marriages were prevalent, the social pressure to be married by a certain age was much greater than it is now. People were more interested in external factors such as your family background, the schools you graduated from, the company you work for, your income level … and those were considered to be the most essential points, almost like the formula for a happy marriage.
But, perhaps with the increase of the divorce rate in Japan, elements such as honesty, care and compatibility are increasingly more valued as the key to create a good loving relationship.
Do you think the JAO has had any impact?
Kimi: I think many Japanese men have not been very expressive of their love and appreciation for their wives, and JAO’s activities are making it OK for them to be more open and outspoken about their love. The “shouting love” events, for example, which (have been) held in the center of a cabbage patch and Hibiya Park near Ginza for more than 10 years, have spread to a number of other locations throughout Japan.
Some men proposed marriage at those events. Some wives brought their husbands to make them say “I love you” for the first time. An 80-year-old husband shouted “I love you, please don’t die before I do!” which brought tears to the eyes of those who were present there.
Of course, you don’t have to shout in front of other people to say “I love you,” but having the stage does seem to help some men to express their love. And thanks to all those brave men who have shouted their love from the stage, there seems to be less prohibition in the Japanese culture now to say “I love you.”
Kiyo, you mentioned that the “aisaika” might be an unknown traditional culture of Japan. What do you mean by that?
There is an ancient myth that when a Japanese god named Yamato Takeru no Mikoto lost his wife, he cried his love for the lost wife. So maybe the Japanese men have been adoring husbands from the ancient past.