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.
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.
"(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. "
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 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.