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How Do I Love Thee? Japanese Husbands Shout The Ways

A man shouts his love at an event in Tokyo on Jan. 29. The event comes two days ahead of Beloved Wives Day, a day on which husbands publicly scream their love for their wives before a crowd of onlookers. Husbands are also urged to head home early to express gratitude to their wives. (EPA /Landov)

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.

"Rieko, 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.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The idea of marriage faces growing skepticism in Japan these days. Only about 25 percent of the women questioned in a recent survey thought married people were happier than singles. But look to the streets of Tokyo and Valentine's Day seems as popular as ever.

And Lucy Craft discovered this hope for marital romance: Japanese husbands trying to show their love in an unusually public way.

YOSHIHARU NISHIGUCHI: (Foreign language spoken)

LUCY CRAFT, BYLINE: 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.

NISHIGUCHI: (Foreign language spoken)

CRAFT: Reiko, I love you, he screams, before yielding the spotlight to the next nervous husband.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

CRAFT: Miwa, the man belts out, I love you.

(APPLAUSE)

CRAFT: 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 here hundreds of miles for the chance to scream before complete strangers the sweet nothings that they just can't seem to whisper in private.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

CRAFT: I'm always putting you down, confesses this Tokyo man, but it's only because I'm shy. I love you and I promise not to come home drunk.

The love shout-out is the work of 53-year-old Kiyotaka Yamana, founder of a wife-appreciation society. He brings to this exercise the fervor that only a reformed male chauvinist possesses.

KIYOTAKA YAMANA: (Through Translator) I ignored my first wife and we ended up getting a divorce. When I remarried, I realized I needed a new attitude. In the past, my life was all about making money. Now, it's wife first, career second.

CRAFT: Yamana looks like a Japanese Don Draper. And in fact, he is a 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.

YAMANA: (Through Translator) The traditional belief is it isn't proper to express affection out loud, that love should be simply understood. But it isn't.

KAORI SHOJI: We've always been in a crisis, romance-wise.

CRAFT: Japanese writer Kaori Shoji parses the complexities of relationships for The Japan Times. She says the overriding pressure on Japanese to succeed academically leaves students with little time or energy for dating. Once they start their careers, Japanese are expected to, in effect, be married to their companies.

SHOJI: It's a double-edged sword, really - this self-control, this self-discipline. It keeps society going and it's great when you think of how safe and secure most of this society is. But on another level, when you just are so rigorously self-controlled like that, you just can't let any spontaneity into your personal life.

CRAFT: 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.

For NPR News, this is Lucy Craft in Tokyo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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