One Saturday this month, a group of about 20 men in suits and ties gathered in the square in front of JR Shinbashi Station in Tokyo. The occasion? A group declaration of their “Three Principles of Love.”

“Say ‘sorry’ without fear; say ‘thank you’ without hesitation; and say ‘I love you’ without shame,” they chanted.

These are not some off-the-deep-end street hawkers. They’re not followers of a guru trying to internalize a religious doctrine. They belong to a group called Zenkoku Teishu Kanpaku Kyokai (the National Chauvinistic Husbands Association) based in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, and someday they hope to make their true feelings known to their wives.

Although the association may sound like a joke, it has a serious purpose. According to Shuichi Amano, the group’s chairman, it aims to give old-fashioned men a chance to “study” how to become loving husbands who are completely submissive to their wives, but who can also solve problems with their wives skillfully. The association held its first Tokyo meeting Sept. 9.

Amano founded the association in 1999 after his wife shocked him with the news that she was considering a divorce. It was a wakeup call for the 54-year-old, who until then had devoted himself to publishing a free monthly magazine and rarely paid attention to his family. Amano realized he would have to change his lifestyle and his attitude toward his wife if he wanted to save his marriage.

“At that time, I realized I had no idea what she was thinking about even though she has been the closest person to me,” he said. “The day after she told me what was on her mind, I started taking out garbage, cleaning the bathtub and paying attention to my wife.”

Amano set up the association to help more husbands reflect on their attitudes toward their wives and to take more responsibility for family matters, which he believes can help create a better society.

It would appear Amano has arrived in the nick of time. As divorce becomes more and more common among retiring baby boomers, the association has attracted heavy media attention. Over the past seven years its membership has swelled to 260.

For Tengen Tanaka, 58, who joined the group in March and runs a self-help school in Kurume, the association provides a rare opportunity to talk about problems at home.

“Looking back myself, I used to be a typical overbearing husband. . . . I had difficulties communicating with my wife. But when I joined the group I learned other members have similar problems with their wives,” he said. “Men usually don’t talk about their problems regarding their wives and children with their colleagues because they have too much pride. There is nowhere to seek advice.”

While some members gather once a month to discuss problems with their wives and seek advice on how to improve communications skills at home, the group’s main activity is to rate members on how well they show their love for their wives.

To attain the lowest rank of level 1, husbands have to still be in love with their wives after three years or more of marriage. Husbands at level 5, including Amano, can walk hand-in-hand with their wives.

Those at level 10, the highest rank, can say “I love you” to their spouses without embarrassment — no easy task for many middle-aged husbands raised in Japan’s male-dominated society. So far, the group has only one member to reach this exalted status.

Shoichi Oba, 46, an editor from Tokyo, was awarded level 3 when he joined the group in January. This rank is reserved for husbands who have never had an affair with another woman, or who at least have not been found out.

Oba said that because he is the family’s breadwinner, “I used to think that my wife should obey me in whatever I told her. My relationships with my wife and daughter soured, and I thought they were wrong and that they should change.”

After joining the group, he had a change of heart.

“I decided to do something I had never done before: Now I wash dishes after breakfast and get up early in the morning to see my daughter off with my wife.

“I believe if I change my way of thinking and attitude, my wife will also change.”

During the meeting on Sept. 9, Oba told the group about his efforts and said he should be awarded level 4, which is given to husbands who practice a “ladies-first” policy. But veteran members turned him down, saying he needed to try harder.

To help members advance to higher levels, the association has gathered 460 tips on how to become a sensitive husband.

Tricks of the trade include sending your wife a thank-you on her birthday, giving her pocket money before you chide her, and leaving your day planner at home on purpose so she can see a note inside that says he is concerned about the marriage.

Still, reaching the top level seems as formidable as scaling Mount Everest for some.

“I think it won’t be so difficult for me to reach levels 7 through 9, but it’s almost impossible for me to say ‘I love you’ to my wife,” said Tanaka from Kurume. He is at level 6, awarded to husbands who “listen seriously” to their wives.

The phrase “I love you” seems to embarrass Tanaka’s wife.

“If my husband said those words to me I would be worried that he must have a fever, or I would wonder what he was up to,” said the woman, 46, who asked that her name not be used.

“When my husband was younger, he ordered me to do this and that, and 80 percent (of his attitude) was chauvinistic. The percentage has dropped to 50,” she said. “But after joining the association, I can sense he wants to be sensitive toward me.”

The key to reaching the top rank is to keep working to become a loving husband and to understand your wife’s loneliness, sadness and complaints, said Yoshimichi Itahashi, 65, from Setaka, Fukuoka Prefecture, the only level-10 member.

“If a husband can understand what his wife feels, he can do something before being dumped,” Itahashi said. “Men can change easily because we are simple-minded. . . . (But) women never change.”

See related links:
How do you or your husband rank?
Paternity leave slowly catching on

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.