A Japanese Politician Is Taking Paternity Leave. It’s a Big Deal.


TOKYO — In a move heavy with symbolism for Japan’s workaholic fathers, Shinjiro Koizumi, a politician seen as a possible future prime minister, said on Wednesday that he would step back from his duties to care for his newborn child after the birth later this month.

By the standards of other wealthy countries, Mr. Koizumi, Japan’s environment minister, will not be away from work for long. He will take a total of two weeks of paternity leave spread over three months, during which he will work flexibly from home or put in fewer hours.

But in Japan, where fathers who take time off after a birth are rare, word of Mr. Koizumi’s intentions swept social media and drew praise from supporters as setting a powerful example.

“I hope my taking paternity leave will lead the way of working styles to one where everyone can easily take child-care leave without hesitation in the environment ministry,” Mr. Koizumi, 38, said in a meeting with his staff on Wednesday.

Yet very few men take advantage of these policies. According to government statistics, just over 6 percent of eligible men working for private companies took parental leave in 2018, compared with more than 82 percent of mothers.

Men who work in the government are more likely to do so: Among public employees, about 21 percent of eligible men took parental leave last year, compared with nearly all mothers in government employment.

The role of fathers in Japanese families has been the focus of growing attention as the number of babies born in the country has fallen to the lowest level since the 19th century, with some analysts attributing the low birthrate in part to the burdens on working mothers. Over all, women in Japan still take on the vast majority of the responsibility for child care.

Yumiko Murakami, head of the Tokyo Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, suggested that if more fathers followed Mr. Koizumi’s example, mothers might get some relief from the burdens of parenting and be willing to have more children.

“If fathers take leave and help their wives with babies, maybe wives will have more support at home and they might decide to go for No. 2 or No. 3,” Ms. Murakami said. “So let’s hope this is a good sign that things are starting to change in Japan, slowly but surely.”

In the private sector, those few fathers who do exercise their right to paternity leave take, on average, less than five days. Mr. Koizumi’s leave, at two weeks, will not amount to much more.

“Child-care leave will not be prevalent,” he added, “unless we change not only the system, but the atmosphere as well.”

Eimi Yamamitsu, Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.





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