Sat, Apr 26, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Baby steps

The Japanese government wants to boost the number of men taking paternity leave from 1.9 percent now to 13 percent by 2020

By Tomoko Yamazaki and Komaki Ito  /  Bloomberg, Tokyo

Yuko Nagai, right, uses her computer while her husband Kazunori plays with their child Miku in their home in Tokyo, Japan, last month.

Photo: Bloomberg

Manabu Tsukagoshi, a Tokyo-based consultant, took a month of paternity leave after his second child was born. That prompted his stay-at-home wife to get a full-time job in the financial industry.

“When someone asks why I would take such leave when my wife was a stay-at-home mom, I tell them it was for her to go back to work,” said Tsukagoshi, 38, who plans to take leave again later this year, from Toray Corporate Business Research Inc., when his wife returns to work after having their third child. “We need role models to show that there are fathers who can do this.”

While Tsukagoshi is among a tiny minority in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants men to take more-active roles in childrearing under a campaign dubbed the “Ikumen Project,” which translates as men raising children. Just 1.9 percent of Japanese men took paternity leave in 2012, according to figures from the government’s Cabinet Office. The goal is to raise the figure to 13 percent by 2020.

Some financial-industry firms, including Nippon Life Insurance Co. and Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co, are among companies that have responded with new programs to encourage men to take time off after children are born. Nippon Life, Japan’s largest insurer, announced on March 20 that paternity-leave participation had reached 100 percent.

“The Ikumen Project has helped make people realize that men can have an important role in childrearing,” said Masako Ishii-Kuntz, a sociology professor at Ochanomizu University in Tokyo. “Having said that, there’s a huge gap between the ideal situation and the reality, and that gap needs to be filled.”


The government is also seeking to increase the percentages of employees taking annual paid vacation from 47 percent to 70 percent, and women returning to work after giving birth from 38 percent to 55 percent by 2020.

If paternity leave and women’s workforce participation rise, “the entire society will likely grow to become more prosperous,” according to the goals of the Ikumen Project’s policy outlined on its Web site.

“We see more young fathers dressed in suits and carrying babies in baby carriers, so the climate is definitely changing,” said Ishii-Kuntz. “The culture has to change first so that men will view taking childcare leave differently.”

Under Japanese law, male employees with young children are entitled to one year of childcare leave if they have worked more than 12 months for the same employer. While on leave, employees can qualify to receive government unemployment benefits, and the employer isn’t obliged to pay salaries.


Paternity leave is most common in Scandinavia and some countries of western Europe, with men taking two weeks to 14 weeks, according to a 2012 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which didn’t cite a US or Japanese statistic.

The gap between what Japanese women and men earn is the second-highest among developed countries, behind South Korea, according to the organization. Female full-time employees in Japan earned on average 29 percent less than men compared with a 16 percent average difference for OECD countries, the data showed. In South Korea it was 39 percent.

Kazuki Shiota, a manager in closely held Nippon Life’s corporate planning department, took advantage of the company program for a week last year to help care for his one-year-old child on a family trip.

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