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Dylan Hernández: How Japanese culture shaped Shohei Ohtani's marriage announcement

Dylan Hernández, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

Before Shohei Ohtani became Japan's most popular athlete, that designation belonged to figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu.

Like Ohtani, Hanyu is 29.

Like Ohtani, Hanyu was born and raised in the Tohoku region, the northern part of Japan's main island.

Last year, the retired Hanyu announced on social media that he was married. Three months later, he returned to the same platform with another announcement.

He was divorced.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist said his family was harassed and became the unwanted subjects of media inquiries and reports. The identity of his wife, which Hanyu had kept secret, was divulged by a weekly tabloid magazine.

 

"When I thought about my future," Hanyu wrote in Japanese, "I wanted my spouse to be happy, to have limitless happiness, so I made the decision to divorce."

Hanyu's story helps make sense of the bizarre manner in which Ohtani revealed his own nuptials this week.

Announcing a marriage on Instagram and holding a news conference on the subject but refusing to share the spouse's name might strike Americans as peculiar. However, by the standards of Japanese culture — especially Japanese celebrity culture — nothing about this was abnormal.

To begin with, a person's work and personal lives are more clearly delineated in Japan than in the United States. Romantic partners are rarely invited to work-related social functions, for example. Plus-ones aren't a standard feature of wedding invitations.

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