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Japanese Attitude Towards Divorce 2021| From Batsu To Maru

Japan's Attitude Towards Divorce

Are you someone who wants to understand the Japanese attitude towards divorce? Read further a detailed description of the reasons for divorce in Japan and other details.

Divorce stigma in Japan is nothing new. You’re often looked down upon once you’re a Batsu. The Japanese attitude towards divorce isn’t something desirable and should be changed real quick for a judgemental free society.

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If you’re a Japanese or a local, I’m sure you must have heard the words- Batsu and Maru a number of times? But do you know, what does it actually mean and signify? Here’s Japan Truly taking a closer look at divorce culture in Japan.

What is the Japanese attitude towards divorce?

Japanese attitude towards divorce hasn’t been great but it’s changing. One gets called a batsu meaning not good or strike one if a spouse decides to get divorced. This is because of the Koseki or Japan’s Family Registry that used to put up a sign of “X” once the spouse that adopts the surname divorces. Divorced once are called batsuichi and twice are called batsuni.

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Very recently, I met a close female friend of mine who is divorced in her mid-20s. She was married to a man she dated since the time of college. 

The reason for their divorce was quite simple, her husband had money which was causing trouble in their married life to the point that they had to part their ways with divorce. 

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 Even though this reason is quite solid, she still believes that she is not “pure” and shouldn’t seek out a new partner. On being asked why, she said that she’s now a Batsu. 

Batsu is a common term used to describe someone who is divorced, roughly translates to “strike one” or one name struck out of the family register”. 

Source Unsplash

The history of divorce in Japan has rather made the entire thing extremely stereotypical. Japanese attitude towards divorce has worsened over the years.

The other day, I went out for lunch with my old colleague who is in her early 40s. We were randomly discussing our lives and discussing what we’ve been doing lately. 

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She started talking about her current second marriage- whether she should continue or not with her cheating husband. Very evidently, she was devastated and broken for it was not her first time her husband had had an affair.

Yet, she wasn’t ready to divorce him because of people who call her “batsu” or someone who has divorced twice. Japanese attitude towards divorce has held back so many people to make the right decision. 

Japanese Attitude Towards Divorce
Source: Unsplash

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While batsu means strike one, Maru means exactly the opposite, it roughly translates to circle.

While I listened to the women above talk about their tragic incidents related to marriage and family- I have a very serious question in my mind.  Why do these women feel guilty about leaving their problematic husbands?

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Having lived abroad for 10 years, hopping to countries and experiencing different cultures, seeing how the topic of marriage takes various forms and shapes, I could only conclude that Japanese attitude towards divorce is extremely negative.

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Japanese Attitude Towards Divorce | From Batsu To Maru

The Scarlet Letter ‘X’ : Divorce in Registry System of Japan

Most of the negativism is rooted in the Japanese attitude towards divorce is mostly because of the Koseki or the family registry system. 

Before a good while when the systems were not digital and things were recorded in a handwritten manner, two people who got married had to take either of the one’s surname, thus marrying into the family of their significant other.

Whomever’s surname was adopted as common, their names were written in the official page of the spouse’s family register. However, in case one needed a divorce, the name was crossed with a huge “X” – this symbol is called Batsu by the Japanese people. 

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Therefore, if one divorces, they’ll have a cross in their family registry becoming batsuichi meaning one divorce. Divorcing twice would mean two crosses which will be called batsuni.

These terms were more commonly used in the 1900s when a press conference was organised by veteran comedian Sanma Akashiya to divorce with actress Shinobu Otake. 

Source: Unsplash

He came with an “X” painted on this forehead and made jokes on himself by calling him a batsuichi. This was done to make the society realise that Japanese attitude towards divorce is not right. The rules applied the same for divorce in Japan for foreigners until a long time.

Infact, if you get divorce in Japan, there is no alimony. If a spouse is having financial difficulties, the court can use its discretion to award the spouse a greater share of the assets as part of the case’s resolution.

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As someone who is familiar with Japanese or has lived in Japan for a while, you know what batsu means right?

It means something that is not good or correct. The same symbols and words are used by teachers when students do not answer correctly in tests.

This symbol is also used if someone finds something as “a no go” or simply not good enough.

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The association of batsu with divorced happened in a similar sense, which means, according to society, divoce= not good and batsu= not good. Hence, Divorce=batsu.

The majority of them have this stigma attached and this is why the Japanese attitude towards divorce isn’t pleasing to hear about. 

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The Times are Changing

However, in Japan, the situation around divorce is slowly changing. The Japanese attitude towards divorce is shifting and for the better, definitely.

 The divorce rate in Japan was 1.73 per 1,000 people, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in the year 2016. In comparison to the pre-war era, the rate has nearly tripled. 

In that year, there were 621,000 marriages and 217,000 divorces, meaning that more than one out of every three marriages ended in divorce. 

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Furthermore, according to data collected by the welfare ministry in 2015, one in every four marriages in Japan involved a divorced couple, the highest rate since 1952, the first year for which comparable data is available.

These numbers show that divorce is increasingly taking place and people are advancing. This shows that the Japanese attitude towards divorce has changed and they’ve been less judgemental all this while.

Source: Unsplash

In the light of changing behaviours of Japanese towards divorce, there is a rise in media-driven moves to replace batsu=not good with maru (circle). Maru means a circle and is often used to describe something good or positive.

A company that publishes the widely popular bridal magazine Zexy called Recruit Holdings created and selected the term “maru ni”. It was kind of a buzzword for 2014 to motivate people to find a new sourmate and start a new life.

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It had several impacts like pushing the idea forward that just because it didn’t work out the first time doesn’t mean it’s the end. This trend is gradual, though a little slowly, making a palace in modern Japan. 

I hope a decade from now, the idea of divorce will not be embarrassing and the Japanese attitude towards divorce would be as normal as anything else. 

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Divorce = Not Bad

Next time I see my friends, I am going to emphasise the fact that divorce can me maru than batsu. Some things are done for good reasons, if you believe it’s not right for you, settling shouldn’t be an option. 

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It’s important to change the Japanese attitude towards divorce and free their minds with constant judgement for a more modern and advanced country. Growing mentally is equally important.

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