Standing in front of a giant heart made of pink tulips, businessman Yoshiharu Nishiguchi tells his wife — along with a bank of TV cameras and curious bystanders — that he is utterly devoted to her.
“Reiko, I love you!” he screams, before yielding the spotlight to the next nervous husband.
“Miwa!” the man belts out, “I love you!”
Even by the sometimes wacky standards of Japanese modern culture, this is one of the stranger rituals to emerge in recent years: the annual love-your-wife shout-out.
Within eardrum-splitting earshot of Japan’s financial district and even the Imperial Palace, a few dozen Japanese men gather each year for the shout-out.
Some have traveled hundreds of miles for the chance to scream — before complete strangers — the sweet nothings that they just can’t seem to whisper in private.
“I’m always putting you down,” confesses one Tokyo man. “But it’s only because I’m shy. I love you, and I promise not to come home drunk.”
But judging from his impassioned delivery, it may be too late for that promise on this particular day.
Say It With Feeling
The love shout-out, held at the end of January, is the work of Kiyotaka Yamana, the 53-year-old founder of a wife-appreciation society. He brings to this exercise the fervor that only a reformed male chauvinist possesses.
“I ignored my first wife, and we ended up getting a divorce. When I remarried, I realized I needed a new attitude,” he says. “In the past, my life was all about making money. Now, it’s wife first, career second.”
Yamana looks like a Japanese Don Draper — the central character in the American TV show Mad Men who’s known for his wandering eye. In fact, Yamana is an actual “Mad man” — an ad guy who normally knows his way around words.
But even gifted schmoozers like Yamana get tongue-tied in affairs of the heart. He says it’s part and parcel of being Japanese.
“The traditional belief is it isn’t proper to express affection out loud, that love should be simply understood. But it isn’t,” he says.
Japanese writer Kaori Shoji parses the complexities of relationships for The Japan Times.
“We’ve always been in a crisis romance-wise,” she says.
The overriding pressure on Japanese to succeed academically leaves students with little time or energy for dating, Shoji says. Once they start their careers, Japanese are expected to, in effect, be married to their companies.
“It’s a double-edged sword, this self-control, discipline. It keeps society going,” Shoji says. “But on another level, if you are so rigorously self-controlled, you can’t let any spontaneity in your personal life.”
But Yamana, the wife-appreciation guru, is undaunted by the task before him. He’s determined to teach his peers that the true way to happiness is by adoring their spouses, one hug at a time.