Paternity leave from Japanese minister Shinjiro Koizumi makes waves

Koizumi, who will become the prime minister of the cabinet in the country to commit to that measure, said Wednesday that he had decided to take two weeks of paternity leave in the first three months after the birth of his baby after considering how to care for himself Your newborn will impact your wife.

Although Koizumi, 38, only takes two weeks off, his decision is significant in Japan despite having one of the world’s most generous free time permits for new parents.

Under Japanese law, both men and women are entitled to up to one year of work leave after having a child. Parents are not guaranteed payment from their employer, but are eligible for government benefits while they are away. But in 2018, only 6.16% of men took paternity leave, according to government data published last year.

The measure is also notable since Koizumi, the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, is widely seen as a future prime minister candidate.

“Honestly speaking, I struggled to discover how I could take a paternity leave, as well as fulfill my public duty as environment minister,” Koizumi said in a meeting with the Ministry of Environment staff on Wednesday, according to a video of the Japanese broadcaster TBS. “But we have to change not only the system, but also the atmosphere.”

“My paternity leave is very informed in the news, but I hope that (in the future) we have a society where a politician’s paternity leave is not news.”

Why don’t men take paternity leave?

Koizumi said last year that he was considering taking a paternity leave, and at that time he received criticism, said Yumiko Murakami, head of the Tokyo Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The generous paternity leave is stipulated by Japanese law, but the country’s work culture means that many people still do not accept it. According to Murakami, Japan has not fully accepted the notion of a balance between work and life, and men are not expected to help at home, and if they do, their loyalty to their workplace is questioned. It is often difficult for political women to take time off too, he said.

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

An emblematic case of paternity challenges Japan's work culture
Last year, a Japanese man filed a historical lawsuit, claiming that his employer, sportswear manufacturer Asics, had left him aside from his sales and marketing work on purpose after his return from parental leave in 2015 and 2018. Asics has denied the accusations.
Canadian Glen Wood, who has been living in Japan for approximately 30 years, told CNN last year that his employer, the financial services company Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley, denied his request for free time as part of his paternity leave . Anyway, he took some time off, but when he returned to work five months later, Wood says he was subjected to constant harassment. The company has denied the accusations.
Gender expectations in men also affect women. The annual report on the global gender gap of the most recent World Economic Forum found that women in Japan spend four times more time than men doing unpaid work, such as domestic work and household management: time, effort and resources that deviate from their participation in the workforce or in politics.
Shinjiro Koizumi is widely seen as a future prime minister candidate.Shinjiro Koizumi is widely seen as a future prime minister candidate.
Koizumi’s decision is “interesting” as it is presented in a context of falling birth rates, Murakami said. Only three weeks ago, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced that the country had the lowest number of births in 2019 since registration began in 1899. The birth rate fell despite government initiatives to change the trend .
In a blog published on Wednesday, Koizumi noted the decline in Japan’s birth rate as a reason why men should take advantage of the paternity leave assignment.

“(The declining birth rate) is starting to make people think: ‘It’s fine, whatever we do isn’t really working,'” Murakami said. “It’s starting to make people think, ‘maybe it’s a mentality, maybe it’s culture, maybe it’s a work environment in which people aren’t really encouraged to have babies.”

Setting a precedent

For now, the reaction of the public has been mixed. Some praised Koizumi’s decision, while others argued that he was not aware of his responsibility as a minister or said his decision was a spectacle.

“Koizumi’s permission is short, and people criticize it as just a ‘performance’,” one wrote. “But such ‘performance’ is the first step in changing society.”

Within the Japanese people who pay cash for childrenWithin the Japanese people who pay cash for children

In an international context, a man who takes two weeks of paternity leave could be considered “pathetic,” Murakami said. “It simply shows how conservative Japanese society remains, especially in the political space,” he said.

But he hoped that Koizumi’s decision would send a message to the general population and set a precedent. “(He) lets people know that it’s okay to do it,” he said.

“I think it’s a very symbolic and important announcement,” he said. “It is very encouraging and hopeful that someone does it in a public way, but at the same time, the other side is that it shows you how much work Japan has, how far behind Japan is in relation to the rest of the world.”

– CNN’s Chie Kobayashi contributed reporting from Tokyo.

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