Why Japanese Men Hide Their Partners

Shohei Ohtani’s wedding announcement highlights the pressure on women to act as professional wives.

Why Japanese Men Hide Their Partners, woman in traditional wedding kimono Matsu | Canva

Despite wars, elections, and political scandals, the news that dominated the media in March 2024 was Japanese MLB player Shohei Ohtani’s wedding announcement. When asked who the lucky bride was, Ohtani only replied, “Just a regular Japanese woman,” keeping her name and profile anonymous.

With this vague statement, the Los Angeles Times ran a column titled, "Shohei Ohtani’s marriage announcement felt strange, but not if you know Japanese culture." The article touched on some cultural aspects, such as the limited entertainment options in Japan that make coverage of popular athletes ubiquitous, the intense media coverage of celebrity lives, and the potential result the loss of anonymity might bring: divorce.

@cbsmornings Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani is marriedThe two-time MVP made the announcement on Instagram, keeping the details private but saying his wife has “a great understanding” of his career. ##news##shoheiohtani##dodgers##losangelesdodgers ♬ original sound - CBS Mornings

The adored figure skater, Yuzuru Hanyu, is said to have divorced after only three months of marriage because of excessive violation of his privacy by journalists and reporters. His marriage announcement last August was even more cryptic than Ohtani's. He used the word nyūseki, meaning an addition to his family registry that records births, deaths, and marriages, not even revealing the gender of his partner.


Ohtani and Hanyu share a preference for a quiet life without overwhelming media coverage about their partners and private lives. But what makes it possible to hide their loved ones’ profiles so thoroughly?

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Disparity of power between 2 families

Without the option of a selective surname system, most Japanese women change their family names and marry into men’s families. Typically, the bride’s parents tell her to prioritize her husband’s parents and follow their family rules, even if that means they won’t be able to see their daughter frequently.

Traditional Japanese wedding dresses are kimonos called shiromuku, meaning white, pure, and willing to be colored by the husbands’ family traditions. Brides even wear a big white silk cap to hide their invisible horns, vowing to remain docile in their married lives.


If men ask their wives to keep a low profile, women are expected to do so. That’s exactly what the partners of Ohtani and Hanyu have done to keep their marriage peaceful; many women married to powerful figures go missing on social media by deleting or locking up their accounts to avoid the trolls and intense attention to every post that would reflect on their husbands.

Are you professional enough as a girlfriend?

Ohtani might be trying to hide his partner so he can focus on baseball, but when it comes to the figure skater, Yuzuru Hanyu, he seemed determined to keep his brand intact even after marriage. He had, and still has a massive female fan base that allows him to fill a stadium and sell photobooks.

To deal with anonymous fans active in every nook and cranny of social media, male icons such as boy band members and popular young actors often erase the shadows of their girlfriends. Since the hordes of investigative fans are skillful, sometimes the pattern of their curtains or any distinctive room decor in the background can lead to invasive speculation and harassment, fans putting two and two together with each other’s help.


Girlfriends who keep their mouths shut and don’t drop hints of their secret relationships on social media are called puro-kanojo, suggesting professional girlfriends who are qualified for romance with celebrities.

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Social pressure on women to be quiet

The renowned Japanese actor, Hidetoshi Nishijima, once listed his seven expectations for his girlfriend. It caused quite a stir on Twitter.

Nishijima’s conditions are a bit extreme, but it is undeniable that powerful Japanese male figures seek someone who can make their life perfect, even if that suggests the woman’s role is little more than a housekeeper slash sexual partner.


Generally speaking, Japanese men rarely mention their wives and girlfriends at work, partly afraid of making themselves seem unprofessional in public. “Plus one” culture isn’t common in Japan, and it is considered a requirement to belittle one’s family members to sound humble, especially in front of seniors and superiors, not to mention the public.

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The price of self-centered marriage

Did Yuzuru Hanyu succeed in protecting his perfect public image after divorcing by wishing for his partner’s “unlimited happiness” without constant media disturbance?

As far as can be seen on social media and the comments of online news, the consensus seems to be that it’s childish to try to hide his wife’s profile completely, forcing her to delete her social media accounts.


That’s particularly true because his ex-wife is the professional violinist Mayuko Suenobu, who used to perform under the spotlight, just like him. Although it is undeniable that nasty gossip about her went on and on, many fans also lamented the lack of respect for her in Hanyu’s comments.

Japan’s ever-widening gender gap — 125th out of 146 countries — is often visible at press conferences announcing the marriage when reporters ask about the bride’s signature recipe as if her primary role is to cook, and Ohtani’s announcement was no exception.

Ohtani says his partner calls him “Shohei-san” while he refers to her without the honorific san, and he decided to marry her because he feels comfortable with himself with her, not being forced to change because of her presence.


Is that praise for his professional wife? The only thing for sure is that even for a baseball superstar, showing respect to one’s partner can be challenging when one comes from a Japanese background.

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Yuko Tamura is a writer, cultural translator, and the editor-in-chief of Japonica based in Tokyo. Her articles have been featured in The Japan Times, Unseen Japan, The Good Men Project, BBC Radio, and more.