‘Til Pension Do Us Part – Divorce in Japan set to Skyrocket

sleep.gifThe image of Japanese salarymen working until late, drinking with colleagues, and then not wanting to go home to their unhappy marriages is a common one in Japan. Yet Japan is also well-known for its low divorce rates.. well, at least up until now that is..!

Blokes be aware – times are changing and those miserable Japanese housewives who have been slaving away in the kitchen for decades for their ungrateful husbands are about to get their long-awaited revenge and the divorce rate is set to sky-rocket from April next year!

A Split Pension Payment law (厚生年金の分割制度) has somehow passed its way through the unhappily-married-male-dominated Japanese Government, changing the rules of pension payments from April 2007, allowing divorced (and disgruntled) wives to get their hands on 50% of the husband’s pension payouts.

Currently, 100% of the pension payments are made into the “head of the household’s”, i.e. husband’s, bank account, and he then decides whether or not his wife sees any of it. Therefore, this was extremely disadvantageous to divorced wives, as they effectively could not receive Government pension payments. This helped to keep divorces low, and added no doubt to the misery of trapped housewives. However, this will change from next year, and the pundits are predicting a huge spike in divorces.

The below graph shows the increase in divorce rates in Japan. It is easy to see the steep drop over the last three years. This decline in divorce rates is directly attributed to the large number of women waiting until next year, so they get their share of their husband’s pension!


Japan has an interesting history of economic conditions and regulations effecting divorce rates. The above graph doesn’t show it, but the divorce rate prior to 1900 was extremely high. Some estimates say as high as 40% in many areas. This then dropped substantially up until the 30′s and 40′s, then has been rising slowly since.

Pre-1900, the cost of marriage in Japan was extremely low. Most local customs required only small dowry payments (from the bride to the groom’s family), and in most cases these dowries were returned in the event of a divorce! These dowries typically consisted of several items of clothing wrapped in a piece of cloth. While women from wealthier families sometimes brought land, money, and other valuables into their marriages, popular customs strongly affirmed the right of the divorced wife to receive her dowry back, as this return was designed to be a facilitator of remarriage.

Marriage was thus something that could be done, and undone very easily, possibly contributing to the Japanese concept of marriage not being sacred, and also having a relaxed attitude towards adultery?

Then, in 1898, the Meiji Civil Code came into effect, divorce became more costly and difficult, and divorce rates dropped by half over the next two years. One comment from a man in the 1930′s contrasts the popularity of elaborate marriage rituals at major shrines in his day with the much lower costs of marriage in the past. In his youth, he recalled, “one could get married for five yen. That is why divorce was so frequent; for five yen you could go to a restaurant, visit a whorehouse, or get married. As a result one broke up marriages without much thought. Now, however, so much money goes into them that one thinks a long time before getting a divorce”.

In the same way, the new Split Pension Payment laws next year are likely to create a huge increase in the number of divorces. And also, as the incentive for women seeking to marry divorced pensioners with only half the economic means as before, the marriage rate is also expected to drop slightly.

rikonritsubyregion.gifThe highest rates of divorce, and thus regions likely to be hardest hit are Okinawa, Hokkaido (must be something in the country air!), Osaka, Fukuoka, and Kochi. The higher rates are represented by darker colours here.

I guess we can also predict that the number of salarymen and their length of stay at the local bars and yakitoriyas to increase, although with less disposable income, they might not be drinking from the top shelf!

20 thoughts on “‘Til Pension Do Us Part – Divorce in Japan set to Skyrocket”

  1. Hmm…as a foreigner does that also mean my wife gets a share of my pension refund when I do a runner and apply for it back…even though im not recieving a pension yet?

    If so, I’ll knock her off now instead of feeding her mochi on her 65th birthday

  2. If my wife doesn’t know about this law, will she automatically get half of my pension? Or does she have to specifically apply?

  3. As it is Japan you probably have to go through gazillions of documents and other stuff. Who knows. Plus, if she would always get half of your pension, even if she would have her own, that would be ridicolous unfair.

  4. I read an interesting article in Nikkan Sports about this the other day. Apparently the Social Insurance Agency set up an “information service” where you could ask for more information about the whole process of applying for your spouse’s nenkin. Of the 1355 people who applied for more information, 1209 of them were women! As the title of the article says: お父さん大変です!

    The article is here: http://www.nikkansports.com/general/f-gn-tp0-20061110-115096.html

  5. 私の夫は外国人で年金を払ってないけど

  6. I guess guys who sense their wives waiting for this will have to get their act together and divorce their wives as soon as possible! Seems absurd, but you never know in this country.

  7. Sorry for the lack in response to questions, the day job has taken over recently..

    As far as i am aware

    Bob- This will not apply to foreigner pension refunds. One of the conditions of a refund is that you have not collected pension before. You will get the refund before your wife can get a chance to get her hands on the dosh.

    John B- She has to specifically apply. This system only applies to couples divorces after April 2007. From April 2007-08, applications require agreement from both the husband and wife, or decision by the courts. However, from 2008, this does not require the husbands agreement.

    Gullevek- Yes, like anything else there will be a squizillion pieces of paper to fill out. And Masuo-san, it does work the other way around. The purpose of this law is to remove the disparity in income between the (ex) husband and wife.

    Y- If you live overseas, and decide to get divorced overseas, remember, you can probably take half of everything he owns, so I wouldn’t be so worried about the pension!!

    This system is extremely complicated, which is it part reflected by the large number of people contacting the information service. Who is eligible, for what period of what pension payments of the husband, and exactly how much the divorced wife will receive all seem to require an advanced maths degree to calculate. There have been a number of articles in the Nikkei recently highlighting these points. I guess if your ex-wife is going to run away with half of your cash, you’d hope that it is as hard as possible!

  8. The BBC published an article on this topic today. Great to see Stippy ahead of the game:

    Japan set for divorce rate boom

    New pension laws coming into effect in Japan could lead to an explosion in divorces, some experts are warning. The rules will make it easier for wives to claim up to half their husband’s pension once the marriage is over.

    The number of divorces in Japan has been rising for several decades, but the trend reversed four years ago when the new laws were first discussed. Many believe that wives in unhappy marriages have been waiting for the new laws to come into effect on Sunday.

    Japan’s divorce rate is still quite low – around two divorces for every 1,000 marriages. Shame is one reason. A failed marriage is frowned upon here, particularly among the older generation. But money is another important factor. Wives often have real concerns that they will not be able to support themselves if they leave the marital home.

    Retirement looms

    The change in the law will help. It will make it easier for women to force their husbands to share their pensions. One survey suggested that in as many as 42,000 couples, wives have been waiting for the rules to change.

    Last autumn, the social insurance agency began offering a confidential service which helped couples calculate how much of the husband’s pension should be given to the wife. Some 90% of the applications have been from women.

    And there is another factor at work. Japan’s baby boom generation is starting to retire this year. That adds up to around five million mostly male workers, who have spent their lives working long hours, and often drinking long after work, several nights a week. These absentee spouses will now have much more time to spend at home – all day, every day – perhaps for the first time in the couple’s married life. Many here believe that will prove too much for their wives to cope with.

    Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6515193.stm

  9. It might not be a big deal, but you have read the graph wrong– the divorce rate “dropped substantially up until the 30’s and 40’s, then has been rising slowly since” is a misleading statement. It’s not 1930 and 1940 that are shown at the bottom of the graph, but Showa 30 and Showa 40, which are 1955 and 1965, respectively. So the divorce rate didn’t start rising during the War as you might have thought, but about 20 years later, during the era of college demonstrations and Women’s Lib.

    Just thought to straighten that out.

  10. Hi,

    I am going through a divorce and I need some help.
    I am an english teacher for a High School, I am under a marriage visa that doesnt expire until may next year.
    My wife wants a divorce by mutual agreement, but I am worried about my status.
    It seems she doesnt want to go to court, all she wants is separation.

    If I agree to do so, will my visa be voided immediately?
    Can I keep my job if my visa is not voided or until it expires?
    What kind of visa can I get to stay in Japan?
    Will I have to pay a pension to her?
    Does she have to apply for pension or is it automatically set?
    Can she do this anytime after we divorce?

    A lot of questions, I know… Sorry.

    Thank you very much.

  11. Hi,

    I am going through a divorce and I need some help.
    I am an english teacher for a High School, I am under a marriage visa that doesnt expire until may next year.
    My wife wants a divorce by mutual agreement, but I am worried about my status.
    It seems she doesnt want to go to court, all she wants is separation.

    If I agree to do so, will my visa be voided immediately?
    Can I keep my job if my visa is not voided or until it expires?
    What kind of visa can I get to stay in Japan?
    Will I have to pay a pension to her?
    Does she have to apply for pension or is it automatically set?
    Can she do this anytime after we divorce?

    We have no kids.

    A lot of questions, I know… Sorry.

    Thank you very much.

  12. My friend is an American guy and found out that his Japanese wife – Junko Muto of Tokyo – is already married to another guy – She never got divorced from her first husband!!!!

    My friend met her and married her in Japan and had registered with the local government office as required in Japan. However, the Japanese wife as it turned out had been married to another man in the US. This US marriage was a legally recognized marriage in Japan, consequently, according to Japanese law, she was guilty of a crime, bigamy.

    Eventually the American guy had to enagage legal help, which took an incredible amount of time and money that he had to pay to get the mess sorted out. He had to engage both US and Japanese legal counsel and ended up in Japanese family court.

    My friend was uncharacteristically naive and was taken advantage by this girl looking to meet a well off foriegn guy. The word is that this Japanese woman is back out looking for the next guy, so please BE CAREFUL!

  13. That seems impossible as you must show your birth documents with maiden name when registering for marriage. It’d be possible if Muto was her maiden name as well as her husbands’ names. Wath out Mutos!;)

  14. I am half Japanese, live in JP and I have JP citezenship. I have been married to european woman for 2 yrs and now she wanna to divorce. Also she wanna half asset and 50 percent of my pension! Is it legal???? Only 2 yrs and half of pension? She even is not going to stay in Japan after divorce.

  15. I thought in Japan both people need to sign in order to get a divorce?

    If this is the case then all men have to do is NOT sign, then move out.

  16. hi, i am filipina and unhppily married to a japanese for 12 yrs now, hes not working since we got married and has 2 rental houses where he got his income and hi pension, now im planning to get divorce (twice i tried,but he never sign the paper), and i just want to know if i can get half of his pension(he’s receiving since he was 60 yrs old and now he’s70)

  17. i am a pilipina i married a Japanese last year in the philipines but i see his true character and i cant handle it… if we divorced is there a posibility that i am include to that law….
    im here now in japan and i have a 1 year visa that will end nxt year!…and if i not divorced him because i have no money for that thing i just want to go back in the philipines what will i do,???? pls help me….

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