A Japanese firm is promoting empty vacation rentals for the stressed-out couples in Japan who are going through significant disturbance in their relationship due to forced lockdown.
Keisuke Arai, the owner of this company himself went through bickering with his girlfriend more than usual. Soon he figured that he was not the only one as hashtag #coronadivorce was trending on social media, reports CNN.
Sensing the tension, the Tokyo-based tourism operator started distributing their offer.
On April 3, he got his answer as the hashtag #coronadivorce - where people largely ranted about their partners -- started trending on social media. So far, Kasoku has received over 140 inquiries, overwhelmingly from women in their 30s to 40s, who are either looking for a quiet place to telework, who want time away from their spouse. So far, 37 people have opted to rent a room.
"We wanted to prevent people from divorcing," says Arai. "The idea behind the vacation rentals is so that married couples can gain some much-needed time and space to think about their relationships."
As Japan scrambled to contain an uptick of coronavirus cases in April, businesses shuttered and the tourism sector was hit especially hard as travelers stayed away. As of May 4, there were 14,877 cases nationwide and 487 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
With no clear end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic or Japan's state of emergency, Arai is banking on bringing in the bucks - and saving some relationships on the way.
Over the last decade, Japan has sought to create a better work-life balance for employees. Although male white-collar workers toiled long hours to power Japan's economic boom in the 1970s and '80s, today, more men are spending time with their families.
However, some husbands still spend long hours at the office, not because their boss is forcing them to, but because they want to avoid their homes, according to Jeff Kingston, a Japan expert at Temple University in Tokyo.
"I think (some Japanese men) are sometimes escapists -- they want to evade household chores, or they don't want their teenage kids looking at them like some kind of alien," says Kingston.
But lockdown has changed household dynamics dramatically.
"Couples are facing a situation they haven't found themselves in before as the lockdown forces them to stay at home," writes one Twitter user. "(The pandemic) has forced them to confront a situation they were previously able to avoid."
But there are more serious reasons someone might need space away from their partner. Chie Goto, a divorce lawyer at Felice Law Office in Hyogo prefecture warns on her blog that some women may become particularly vulnerable to cases of domestic abuse.
Kasoku wants to offer these people a reprieve. It also works with women experiencing domestic violence to help them find a place to stay that is within their budget.
Considering that domestic violence in Japan reached a record high in 2019, that's a service that may prove vitally important.
The Japanese divorce rate stands roughly at two per 1,000 people per year, compared to three per 1,000 in the US and 4.5 per 1,000 in Russia, according to a survey published by the OECD in 2017.
Japan hasn't had a sudden spike in divorces yet, but the venting on social media indicates people's growing frustration amid the pandemic, writes Goto.
A chance to reset
Arai hopes the vacation rentals can be a temporary refuge, instead of a long-term solution. "We wanted people to take the space to reflect on what wasn't working in their relationships," he says.
Here's how it works: The company offers 500 fully furnished rooms in hotels and inns across Japan. Guests can stay from one day to six months. A unit costs just over $37 per day and up to $844 per month.
But just in case, his firm has partnered with a divorce consulting service, if couples feel they've reached the end of the line.
The physical distancing may be cathartic for people, but it's not an effective way of coping with the relationship, according to John Lim, the chief well-being officer at Singapore Counselling Centre.
"Going beyond this, it is crucial for the couple to examine the relationship to determine how they can address the differences and conflicts for the sake of a happier and healthier long-term relationship," he says.