With the spread of the coronavirus changing the lifestyles of people across Japan, some couples are being forced to address underlying issues in their relationships that have largely gone ignored until now, pushing them to the brink of divorce.
But one service is stepping in to help them save their marriages before it is too late, offering couples a breather from each other as they try to obey stay-at-home requests.
After the phrase “corona divorce” surfaced on social media earlier this month, Kasoku, a Tokyo-based firm providing short-term rental units, launched an initiative to give couples the time and space they desperately needed.
“The goal is to avoid divorce,” said Kosuke Amano, the company’s spokesman. “We hope couples first distance themselves and think about (their marriage). For our part, we will provide rooms that they can live in and an environment for teleworking.”
The stay-at-home request due to the virus is unlikely to be lifted anytime soon. Japan declared a state of emergency nationwide on April 16, further expanding the coverage of the prior declaration covering Tokyo and six other prefectures.
Before the state of emergency was in place, posts expressing frustration toward spouses due to increased teleworking and longer hours spent together had been circulating on social media.
Carrying the hashtag #coronarikon (meaning “corona divorce” in Japanese), one user tweeted, “My husband goes to central Tokyo by train and doesn’t take things such as hand-washing and wearing his mask seriously, making it meaningless for the children to do so.”
Another person tweeted, “My husband lacks a sense of urgency, and I am dismayed. I don’t want to be with someone with that kind of mindset. It’s corona divorce.”
Kasoku, which operates 500 vacation rental units nationwide, has launched a website (https://corona-rikon.com/) to offer what it calls a “temporary refuge” for frustrated couples.
The idea resulted from the company president’s firsthand experience of breaking up with his girlfriend whom he had been living with, Amano said. And it also allowed the firm to fill vacant units as the number of tourists dropped.
As the virus outbreak continues, many families have one or both spouses teleworking and children are staying at home during school closures.
Rika Kayama, a psychiatrist and professor at Rikkyo University, said, “What I often hear is the difference couples have in how they look and tackle the virus. While some wives take the issue as life-threatening, their husbands do not.”
Kasoku began its service on April 3 and has received around 100 consultations, booking more than 20 people booked for mostly monthlong stays, including a woman who left home after a quarrel with her husband, as well as those looking for a place to telework.
It provides fully furnished units with Wi-Fi. Most are located in Tokyo but it also has rooms available elsewhere, including Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka. A room costs ¥4,400 per night including tax, while the monthly fee starts at ¥90,000.
Consultations are generally in Japanese but the firm can also handle requests in English and Chinese by phone or email.
Amano said complaints, which come equally from men and women in their 30s to 50s, included frustrations over having to spend long hours in the same house and feeling suffocated.
Lawyer Eri Mizutani, whose firm handles many divorce cases, said the current talk about corona-related divorce should be put in proper perspective, calling the issue more “deep-seated.”
Mizutani said their divorce consultations in relation to the coronavirus have more to do with serious issues such as domestic violence, a growing problem with people spending more time at home.
“It’s not just a simple case of the virus causing the divorce. To start with, there were already underlying factors, with the spouse seeking the right timing (to separate or divorce). And the virus just fueled the timing,” she said.
That said, Mizutani sees the virus playing two key roles in creating conflicts between couples: the lack of a sense of crisis shared between spouses and economic hardship such as the loss of a job. Divorce consultations may also increase after the crisis is over, as couples assess how they dealt with the crisis, she added.
In Japan in particular, conflicts could also arise if workaholic husbands insist on reporting to work as their wives urge them to work from home, according to Kayama.
In the event a couple cannot sort out their issues, Kasoku’s partner in the project, venture firm G-Tech Inc., is ready to offer legal services.
Still, Kayama hopes many couples will not be too hasty in filing for divorce and urges them instead to unite and overcome the challenges they face.
“Making a big decision in life like divorce can be tough at a time like this,” she said. “Why not hold off until after the virus is under control?”
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