A Japanese minister waves to take paternity leave

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Koizumi, who will be the first cabinet minister in the country to do so, said on Wednesday that he had decided to take two weeks of paternity leave in the first three months after his baby was born after considering how to take care of the newborn alone can affect his wife.

Although the 38-year-old Koizumi has only two weeks off, his decision in Japan is important, even though there is one of the world's most generous allowances for new fathers.

Under Japanese law, both men and women are entitled to one year of vacation from work after the birth of a child. Parents do not receive guaranteed remuneration from their employer, but are entitled to state benefits while they are free. In 2018, however, only 6.16% of men took paternity leave, according to government data released last year.

The move is also noteworthy as Koizumi – the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi – is widely seen as a future prime minister candidate.

"Honestly, I had a hard time figuring out how to take paternity leave and fulfill my duty as environment minister," Koizumi said Wednesday at a meeting with Ministry of Environment officials, according to a video by Japanese broadcaster TBS. "But we have to change not only the system, but also the atmosphere."

"My paternity leave is widely reported in the news, but I hope that (in the future) we will have a society where a politician's paternity leave doesn't bring any news."

Why men don't take paternity leave

Koizumi said he was considering paternity leave last year – and at that time he was criticized, said Yumiko Murakami, director of the Tokyo Center for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Generous paternity leave is required by Japanese law, but the country's work culture means that many people still don't take it. According to Murakami, Japan has not fully accepted the idea of ​​reconciling work and family life, and men are not expected to help at home – and if they do, their loyalty to their jobs is questioned. It is often difficult for women politicians to take time out, she said.

Men often fear that their career may be affected if they take paternity leave.

Landmark paternity case challenges Japan's work culture
Last year, a Japanese filed a groundbreaking lawsuit claiming that his employer, sporting goods manufacturer Asics, specifically excluded him from sales and marketing after he returned from parental leave in 2015 and 2018. Asics has denied the allegations.
Canadian Glen Wood, who has lived in Japan for around 30 years, told CNN last year that his employer, financial services company Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley, had refused his application for parental leave. He took time off anyway – but when he returns to work five months later, Wood claims he has been subjected to constant harassment. The company has denied the allegations.
The gender-specific expectations of men also affect women. The World Economic Forum's recent Global Gender Gap Report has shown that women in Japan spend four times more time than men doing unpaid work such as housework and housekeeping – time, effort, and resources that are distracted from their workforce participation or from politics.
Shinjiro Koizumi is widely regarded as a future prime candidate.
According to Murakami, Koizumi's decision is "interesting" because the birth rate is falling. Just three weeks ago, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Affairs announced that the country had the lowest birth rate in 2019 since records began in 1899. The birth rate fell despite government initiatives to reverse the trend.
In a blog released on Wednesday, Koizumi pointed out Japan's falling birth rate as the reason why men should take the option of paternity leave.

"(The falling birth rate) makes people think," OK, whatever we do doesn't really work, "Murakami said." It starts to make people think: maybe it's a mindset, maybe it's that Culture, maybe it's a work environment where people aren't really encouraged to have babies. "

Set precedent

The reactions from the public were initially mixed. Some praised Koizumi's decision, while others argued that he was not aware of his responsibility as a minister or that his decision was just a show.

"Koizumi's vacation is short and people only criticize him as a" performance "," wrote one. "But such a" feat "is the first step to change society."

In the Japanese city that pays cash to children

In an international context, a man who takes two weeks of paternity leave could be considered "miserable," Murakami said. "It just shows how conservative Japanese society is, especially in the political arena," she said.

However, she hoped that Koizumi's decision would send a message to the general population and set a precedent. "(It) lets people know that it's okay to do that," she said.

"I think it's a very symbolic, important announcement," she said. "It is very encouraging and hopeful that someone makes it public, but at the same time it shows you how much work Japan has and how far behind Japan compared to the rest of the world."

– CNN's Chie Kobayashi reported from Tokyo.