The long-rumored divorce of one of Japan’s most high-profile couples was announced this Saturday, but it wasn’t the divorce itself that had people furiously tweeting and debating online: It was the way the Japanese media chose to break the news.
The scandal and then the divorce
Japanese actress and model Anne Watanabe (daughter of Ken Watanabe) and actor Masahiro Higashide announced their divorce on Saturday, August 1, in a co-signed fax addressed to the Japanese media. The message read that the two have decided to put a period on their five-year marriage but will continue to cooperate and be “mature” as parents to their three — still very young — children.
— ARAMA! JAPAN (@aramajapan) July 31, 2020
The two had been separated since the beginning of this year after news of Higashide’s affair with 22-year-old actress Erika Karata broke in Japan along with reports on Higashide’s overall poor performance as a father and husband. News reported that he not only never helped with the housework or child-caring but also demanded that his meals were cooked and served hot every day. Watanabe, who goes by simply as Anne in Japan, meanwhile, is a full-time working mother raising their currently 4-year-old twin daughters and a 2.5-year-old son. To add to that, at the time Higashide was having the affair with Karata — which presumably continued for three years of the couple’s five-year-long marriage — Anne was pregnant with their third child. To further complicate things, Karata was only 19 when the affair began, which makes her technically a minor.
The final blow from Higashide came during his now infamous apology press conference (video below) when a reporter asked him whether he is more fond of his wife or Karata, following which he kept silent for 13 seconds — until he finally spoke out saying he can’t respond to the question because it would “hurt his wife even more.” Rumor has it that this was the last drop in the cup for Anne.
The news that Anne had finally made up her mind to move on with her life solo, therefore, did not surprise many. Most people had been rooting for her to make the decision faster (at first she asked for privacy, followed by a long silence on her plans) as criticism against Higashide’s behavior spread on social and mainstream media. Higashide’s affair had a major impact on his (and Karata’s) career causing him to lose several sponsorship deals, including those with Honda and the clothing company Next. Though that didn’t last long either — his latest movie “The Confidence Man JP: The Movie,” starring the late Haruma Miura, was just released in Japan and Higashide attended a number of press events as cheerful as usual.
The Japanese media’s questionable response
The couple made the top news over the weekend but many viewers were stunned as they watched the reports unfold.
In their reporting, tabloid magazine Shukan Bunshun and many other media broke the news with headlines reading: “Anne and Masahiro Higashide divorce: ‘Anne is the type of person who wouldn’t forgive one-time infidelity’.” The quote was reportedly a part of an interview with “an acquaintance” of the couple who made the remarks about Anne’s personality. Whether cited out of context or not, to many, the headline made it look as if the actress had it wrong for being unforgiving.
TV reportage followed Bunshun’s steps. The popular gossip show “Sunday Japon” discussed the news with its regular commentators, including the model Yukipoyo who laughingly said that Anne wasn’t “a gal (gyaru), so she couldn’t forgive.” Yukipoyo was also the same person who commented that Nozomi Sasaki would probably forgive her husband (Ken Watabe, whose own multiple infidelities in public restrooms for the exchange of cash came to light in June) because she “was a gal and gals usually forgive.”
— 自由人。 (@f_d_20) August 2, 2020
Translation: “Anne isn’t a gyaru so she couldn’t forgive. Gyaru won’t push people away so easily, so they usually forgive.” I think it’s not a matter of whether one is a gyaru or not. I kept wondering why there are only two options offered — it felt really unpleasant. One can take this comment as coming from someone with a very narrow mind.
Following the news, hundreds took to Twitter with angry posts wondering why Anne is the one in the spotlight, whereas it is her husband who is the one to blame.
The following are examples of what some Twitter users had to say:
— 眞壁 (@makabe444) August 1, 2020
Translation: If a woman leaves her three children to the care of her husband and goes out to have an affair with a younger man, society would tear her apart, making it impossible for her to return to the showbiz industry. If that’s a man, however, they’d criticize him for a bit and then in six months to a year he’d return in the spotlight. In three years, he’d make jokes about his infidelity and wouldn’t suffer much in his career after all.
— つかさん (@tsuka18096) July 31, 2020
Translation: Is forgiving (infidelity) that admirable? The people who have started the affair should be criticized, not those who are suffering from it. In Japan, many think that being unforgiving to the wrongful side is not admirable, but there’s no such thing. The people having an affair are always the ones in the wrong.
— ʀɪᴇ_ssᴋ (@RIE_SSK_0417) August 1, 2020
Translation: Why are people saying these things to Anne? I feel like being cheated on is disgusting and not something you should forgive. Plus, people have different way of thinking when it comes to what to forgive and what not. Please don’t create “a good wife” standard. Going through your partner’s affair hurts so much — it’s unbelievable that there are still more people ready to hurt (Anne).
— meen (@meen59876740) July 31, 2020
Translation: This headline is sick. It makes it look like it’s Anne’s fault for not forgiving (Higashide)’s affair. They were reporting on the news today that women do 30% more of the housework than men. Work + Housework + Taking care of the kids. And Anne has three kids. Meanwhile, her husband is having an affair with a person who was trying to bully Anne. That’s pure hell!
While most people are cheering Anne up and rooting for her to continue her successful career, the fact that Japan has an evidently biased opinion on male infidelities versus those of women remains the most disappointing end result of it all. In a country where a three-year-long affair is referred to as “a one-time” mistake, one wonders why celebrities like Becky (an unmarried woman who had an affair with a married man once) are still out of the business world.