Japan: I now pronounce you friend and friend

For those who take note of social categories a new one has been created: that of ‘marriage mates’.
The tomo-fuhfu (where literally tomo means ‘mates or friends’ and fuhfu ‘married couple’) is the new term coined by writer Megumi Ushikubo to indicate those couples who have grown apart from each other and have in common only a marriage in name, sometimes with children, but nothing more. The married ‘friends’ may not see each other for an extended period of time, don't spend time together and certainly don't have sex.

This new category first appeared in Ushikubo's latest book Tada Tomo-fuhfu no Riaru (The reality of the ‘just marriage mates’), where, basing her observations on interviews with dozens of Japanese couples, she investigates the marriage condition of those who decided to get married for convenience to someone who is more like a friend than a soul mate or a lover. The book also recounts the collective experience of many husbands and wives who ended up being simply ‘married friends’ because their love vanished or perhaps had never really existed.

By Mr Hayata. CC license

A blogger commented on some findings in the book and said she lent it to her husband.


I was startled when I read that …
“Within three years after a baby is born, love for the husband vanishes” booo.
“During child-rearing some [women] begin to think that the husband is useless” mmm.
“The husband tends to behave like a child” awww.
Some times it is not even three years but rather three months when those symptoms start to emerge. There is certainly nothing to laugh in that.

In recent years, many like Ushikubo (who is also the author of a book on ladylike men [en]) have tried to give names to social trends that have mushroomed in the Japanese society: heterosexual men less interested in the opposite sex have been categorized as “herbivore” [en] and expressions such as “marriage hunting” [en] has entered the daily vocabulary.
Tomo-fuhfu seems to be another convention that only time will decide whether it's just something that sells books and brings consulting companies customers or is actually a sign of a transformation in the deeper levels of society.

According to yomo this new conception of the married life is something that belongs to the newer generation, where equal opportunities are taken for granted and one's own space and time is a must.


There is no doubt that they are a married couple but husband and wife have ownership rights on different parts of what's inside the refrigerator. In other words they have their name on the food.
Even if they live in the same area, they may live in different houses. This is what is called the ‘weekend marriage’ where on holiday or free days, one of them may go to spend some time at the partner's place.
Reasons may be that they don't want to be disturbed in their activities or they both don't want to have their freedom restricted and so on.
But it cannot be said that their relationship is bad or poor, it would be more accurate to say that they are spouses who need their own space to get along with each other.
I read that this is an absolutely logical mentality that is based on a man-woman relationship that has transformed.
By Naoya Fuji. CC License

By Naoya Fuji. CC License

Discussions on married friends or marriage mates often raise comment on surveys on the sex life of the Japanese married couples and the low birth rate of the country. A blog, for instance, reports [ja] that one third of the married couples do not have sex, while another quotes [ja] a survey by condom maker Durex which says that in 2008, Japan was the least sexually active country in a 26 country ranking.
Although it seems quite difficult to have precise statistics on the matter, ayikes said that a lack of sexual drive is one of the characteristics of the tomo-fuhfu.


To explain what kind of couple this may be:

    ・both value time spent on their own
    ・they do not envisage something like ‘together always and everywhere’
    ・when they visit their hometown, even if they have kids, they go to their respective hometowns
    ・a weekend ‘marriage’ or a commuting ‘marriage’ with separate houses is welcome
    ・in many cases the husband is a ‘herbivoreikumen (where ikumen means that he is proactive in child-rearing)
    ・night affairs and intimate physical contact happen only when procreation is intended
    ・obviously they both work
    ・if they live together, the husband's territory and the wife's territory are neatly divided

Even if a couple fitting one or more of the criteria above may be considered ‘cold’, the blogger continues, such interpretation of the marriage relationship is a response to specific social needs.


In Japan such an arrangement is an extremely convenient and helpful response to social requirements.
Because you are married, you are more trusted and a particular social role is granted for, if you are married, you are judged as normal in public opinion.
People view you differently and you won't be asked repetitive questions such as; “are you married?, why don't you get married?, can't you?” by parents but also by family, relatives, friends, company's superiors and colleagues, unknown neighbors and for such a marginal thing you won't need to feel awkward anymore.
For those who don't want to get married, the best solution is simply becoming ‘marriage mates’.


Marriage mates rarely have restrictions such as ‘it must be that Mr. X or Miss X”.
And vows like ‘I will love you forever’ are not needed, because they are friends.
There is no need to financially support or serve the other, because they are friends.
A husband should be like this, a wife should be like that … such old, typical rules don't apply any longer, because they are friends.
They can have an equal position in the relationship, consult one another and talk, because they're friends.
They will both value their personal lifestyle and if time allows it they will have fun together, because they're friends.
They'll take turns for the domestic chores, because they're friends.
If one of them is injured or sick the other will take care or be taken care of, because they're friends.
So what do you think? It's not all that bad, is it?

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