Tokyo – The Japanese public has welcomed a headline-grabbing move by the country's environment minister this week: Shinjiro Koizumi, a photogenic 38-year-old politician who has sometimes been hailed as a possible future prime minister, announced that he would take two weeks of paternity leave after his Woman gave birth to her first child.
The move should not only let Koizumi help and enable him to experience the joys of fatherhood first hand, but also make him a role model.
"My greatest wish is that the day will come when our society no longer sees a politician's childcare leave as news," said Koizumi. Many seemed to agree.
"I support him wholeheartedly," Tokyo politician Hironobu Narisawa told Asahi. "This will encourage other male employees."
"The feeling on the street is that it's time for someone on the government to take paternity leave," said Kaori Shoji, a Japanese writer and mother. "And he'd better change diapers and get up with his wife every two hours, otherwise what's the point?"
Out of 100 passers-by interviewed by the Fuji television station, 88 commented on Koizumi's top-class parenting. "If a government minister aggressively welcomes childcare leave, it will be easier for others to follow in his footsteps," said one woman.
But in this workaholic nation, which is falling behind in global empowerment ratings for women, old habits are dying hard and the effects of Koizumi's admittedly modest paternity act are likely to be subdued. This is all the more tragic given that Japan is pursuing an unusually generous but little-used national paternity leave policy.
"Japan's childcare vacation is world class," Yasuyuki Tokukura of the nonprofit group Fathering Japan told TBS News. "However, the social climate in Japan did not keep up, so the system of paternity leave cannot be used effectively."
The United States is in last place among 41 industrialized nations for parental leave. the government grants new fathers zero free time. Japan guarantees each parent a full year of work, which can be extended for another year. Mothers and fathers working for businesses and the public service are entitled to 67% of their wages in the first 180 days after childbirth and half of them afterwards to close the year – paid by taxpayers, not by employers.
Despite this gilded parental leave, only a meager 6% of new fathers took paternity leave in 2018 – and the most common duration for those who did so was just a few days. Japanese blame a workplace atmosphere for men who take their statutory paternity leave.
Hostility to news fathers who take time out to help with childcare is so widespread and deeply rooted that it bears a name: "Pata-Hara" or paternal harassment. (The female counterpart is "mata-hara".) Men who work less or do not work overtime to help with childcare are at risk of downgrading and may even return from leisure time and find that they no longer have a desk.
Attitudes seem to be split across generations, with middle and older age men exerting the greatest pressure.
"I don't think someone who is paid by the taxpayer should make such a statement," grumbled a man in his forties about Koizumi's move. "I've never seen anyone take childcare."
"Frankly, I just wish he would do his ministerial job," said another older man.
Harrumphing was even heard by members of Koizumi's own conservative party.
"He is smart, Minister Koizumi, so he will certainly not negatively impact his free time on parliamentary affairs," said Hiroshi Moriyama, 74-year-old chairman of the parliamentary committee.
However, surveys by the Japan Productivity Center and other organizations show that new male graduates and new employees are predominantly on paternity leave. According to experts, management is the crux of the matter – and the key to destigmatizing holidaymakers.
"The role of (supervisor) is extremely important to drive adoption of paternity leave," said lawyer Tokukura, calling on more managers to understand and praise the value of paternity leave.
A handful of private Japanese companies have taken paternity leave, including the Japanese unit of the American insurer Aflac, which employs around 5,000 people here. Aflac sends emails to new fathers – and their bosses – to get fathers to say goodbye. Managers are evaluated on how well they implement paternity leave programs. The effort paid off: 70% of the company's fathers have an average of 10 days off.
A video on promoting paternity leave entitled "I wish I had spent more time with you" presents the regrettable testimony of CEOs from seven other companies who talk about how they sacrificed home life for their work. The CEOs ask other men not to follow their example.
"I have almost no memories of my children before the age of 2," said Tomoyuki Shigenaga, President of Pacific Consulting, in the video, which was produced jointly by Forbes Japan and the consultancy Work-Life Balance.
"My son's first word was & # 39; mom & # 39 ;. I don't remember him learning dad," said Takumi Sakata, president of Sakata Manufacturing. "The era when a man's value was how insanely long he worked – those days are long gone."
The video, which was uploaded to social media a few weeks before the minister's announcement, was viewed more than 12,000 times.