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Mothers want a word with the LDP’s old guard over paternity leave slap-down

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With the issue of Japan’s declining birthrate looming ever larger, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to create a society where women can actively participate. Some 60 percent of Japanese women still give up their jobs upon having children, largely due to a work culture that demands long hours of men, placing the burden of child-raising firmly on women’s shoulders. Ironically, Japan has one of the world’s most generous paternity-leave provisions, yet currently only 2.3 percent of eligible new fathers take it.

A small but potentially very significant step in the right direction came when Kensuke Miyazaki, a Kyoto lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, recently announced that he would become Japan’s first politician to take paternity leave when his wife, fellow MP Megumi Kaneko, gives birth next month.

However, on Jan. 6, senior members of the Diet Affairs Committee summoned Miyazaki and hauled him over the coals for his plans. Among the reported accusations were that he was sullying the reputation of all Diet members and only using the impending birth as a platform for self-promotion. A number of mothers, both foreign residents and Japanese, were eager to comment about the situation.

Laura Kurotobi, an American based in the Chugoku region, juggles parenting two preschoolers with a demanding job as assistant professor at a university.

“Japan needs children and it needs women in the workforce, but Japan’s lack of work-life balance is the biggest impediment,” she says. “Miyazaki is doing exactly what is needed. He is someone in a visible, respectable position, leading by example. There needs to be more men like him willing to stand up to the old guard and take paternity leave without being quiet about it.”

The recent birth of her first child made Yuka Hayashi realize just how tough working mothers have it. Hayashi operates her own nail salon in Tokyo, and while she is grateful her daughter got a place at public day care, she says every day is a struggle.

“Frankly, I’m only managing because my widowed dad lives close and can back me up,” she explains. “My husband works long hours, and although we briefly discussed him taking paternity leave, he was afraid of upsetting his boss so didn’t even ask. I fully support Miyazaki! Change has to come from the top.”

Vicky Kobayashi, a British woman living in Hokkaido, echoes this sentiment.

“Fifteen and 20 years ago, I gave birth to our sons. I have managed child care and my career as an English teacher ever since with minimal support from my husband, who longed to be more involved with his children. Legally, he could have taken leave, but in practice it was impossible,” says Kobayashi. “I am upset to see that so many years later the situation has not changed. I urge Mr. Miyazaki to take his paternity leave.”

School librarian Masayo Shimatani of Kanagawa Prefecture says the whole debacle over Miyazaki’s plans is an embarrassment to Japan’s ruling LDP.

“As citizens, how can we believe all their claims about wanting to empower women when senior politicians won’t support moves by their colleagues to improve work-balance?” she asks. “I hoped things would become easier for us mothers over time, but my daughter is now in college and little has changed.”

Canadian mother-of-two Miriam Nakamura has some tough words for the Diet.

“The LDP bigwigs who took Miyazaki to task would be better served spending their time taking a walk in their constituents’ shoes,” says Nakamura, who lives in Kyushu and works full-time in the medical industry. “If they can’t figure out how to balance meeting a client, meeting a report deadline and a PTA meeting all on the same afternoon, how can I trust them to balance the budget and deal with big issues like the economy and national defense?”

Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • A.J. Sutter

    Interesting that three of the five people interviewed are foreigners. There’s a different way to parse this: not that paternity leave is bad — quite the opposite — but that a member of the Diet shouldn’t be claiming it, and for such a long period, when (1) his wife is also a Diet member, so that both will be absent during the legislative session, (2) their household income is so high (> ¥50,000,000 annually), and most importantly (3) so many other men can’t take advantage of it.

    Rather than claiming his right to paternity leave, he could have made an issue out of it on behalf of all new parents in Japan by introducing legislation to penalize companies for companies who discourage employees (men and women) from child leave. Instead, seemingly unconscious of his privilege, he seems to think that being a Diet member is like being a sarariiman, not someone in whom the public have deposited a special trust and who has undertaken a special duty.

    • Laura

      I disagree. It’s hard to legislate against bullying and such that would come not just from the higher-ups in one’s company, but from their peers. Until there are more examples of people in power willing to normalize this, nothing will change. He’s opening doors for others, not flaunting his privilege.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Thanks for your reply. But first of all, that sort of legislating is one of the functions (among many) of civil rights laws, such as in the US. It doesn’t matter whether the harassment comes from the boss or the co-workers, the company is liable. In the US, such laws are very effective. (Of course Japan needs a full-blown civil rights law, too.)

        Second, please see another story in today’s Japan Times, entitled “Japanese government to submit law revisions against harassment over pregnancy, child-rearing.” The sort of law I suggested is exactly the sort of law our self-styled “Womenomics” administration is now promoting. With one big and hypocritical difference: it applies to mothers and prospective mothers only.

        If Miyazaki & Kaneko were really serious about being crusaders on behalf of others (not just on their own behalf), they should be speaking out to make that law gender-neutral — and planning for one or both of them to attend as much as possible of the current legislative session in order to fight for it.

        Finally, of course foreigners face the same problems. But their understanding of the politics could be — and in this case probably is — different from that of Japanese voters. Most of the criticism I’ve heard of Miyazaki (from Japanese family and colleagues) isn’t about whether child leave ought to be available: at least in the circles I travel in, attitudes about gender equality are quite progressive. Rather, it’s about the special privileges of MPs, i.e. it’s about the selfishness of Miyazaki expecting it ahead of other people. Their reasoning is that as an MP he’s uniquely positioned to fight for it on behalf of everyone — and he should put that bigger interest ahead of his own personal case.

        So ultimately not all criticism of Miyazaki need be based on retro attitudes about gender. Rather, criticism even from “enlightened” quarters can be framed in terms of what is the appropriate role of MPs. JT’s coverage of this issue would not give readers any inkling that at least some in Japan do frame it that way. See also my reply to ROninX3ph in this thread.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Thanks for your reply. But first of all, that sort of legislating is one of the functions (among many) of civil rights laws, such as in the US. It doesn’t matter whether the harassment comes from the boss or the co-workers, the company is liable. In the US, such laws are very effective. (Of course Japan needs a full-blown civil rights law, too.)

        Second, please see another story in today’s Japan Times, entitled “Japanese government to submit law revisions against harassment over pregnancy, child-rearing.” The sort of law I suggested is exactly the sort of law our self-styled “Womenomics” administration is now promoting. With one big and hypocritical difference: it applies to mothers and prospective mothers only.

        If Miyazaki & Kaneko were really serious about being crusaders on behalf of others (not just on their own behalf), they should be speaking out to make that law gender-neutral — and planning for one or both of them to attend as much as possible of the current legislative session in order to fight for it.

        Finally, of course foreigners face the same problems. But their understanding of the politics could be — and in this case probably is — different from that of Japanese voters. Most of the criticism I’ve heard of Miyazaki (from Japanese family and colleagues) isn’t about whether child leave ought to be available: at least in the circles I travel in, attitudes about gender equality are quite progressive. Rather, it’s about the special privileges of MPs, i.e. it’s about the selfishness of Miyazaki expecting it ahead of other people. Their reasoning is that as an MP he’s uniquely positioned to fight for it on behalf of everyone — and he should put that bigger interest ahead of his own personal case.

        So ultimately not all criticism of Miyazaki need be based on retro attitudes about gender. Rather, criticism even from “enlightened” quarters can be framed in terms of what is the appropriate role of MPs. JT’s coverage of this issue would not give readers any inkling that at least some in Japan do frame it that way. See also my reply to ROninX3ph in this thread.

    • R0ninX3ph

      I also have to disagree, Japan is such a top down society, so that any change has to come from above before those at the bottom can take part in it.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Thanks for the reply. Yes, Japan is a top-down society, but that doesn’t mean that the privileges claimed by those at the top trickle down to those farther down the tree. Those at the top think they deserve what they have, and that those below deserve not to have it.

        As MPs both Miyazaki and Kaneko already have opportunities others do not have, and never will. Rather than a sense of leadership, though, they seem to have a sense of entitlement.

        Here’s a counterexample, from an MP in my neck of the woods. His home was devastated in the 2011 tsunami, and more than 5 years later, he’s still in temporary housing. He was offered a better home — be he declined. Instead, his attitude is that he will the *last* person in his constituency to move out of temporary housing, and in the meantime he’s fighting to have *their* situation improved before his own.

        That’s the leadership attitude Miyazaki should show — and might I suggest his wife as well, if my understanding is correct that women MPs who’ve had children take shorter leaves.

        See also my reply to @Laura in this thread.

    • Sam Gilman

      I’m sorry, but I also disagree with the idea that Miyazaki shouldn’t take leave. Yes, he could also introduce legislation as you say, but as with others, I think there is good symbolic value in him taking the leave. Sad as it may be, I think a lot of men might feel ashamed of taking parental leave, as it challenges their gender identity even though they would want to take the leave.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Thanks for your comment. It might be that taking leave challenges some mens’ gender identity, but among the sarariiman I know, peer pressure is the bigger issue. Also, please consider that while the symbolic value favoring gender equality might be unambiguous for Westerners (and maybe even for some Japanese who’ve lived for a while in the West), it isn’t necessarily going to symbolize the same thing in the eyes of Japanese voters. As I suggest particularly in my reply to Laura in this thread, even some who favor both parents being able to take leave read Miyazaki’s request as a symbol of the selfishness of politicians.

      • Sam Gilman

        It may be a case of who you talk to or the circles you move in. My never-western-dwelling Japanese partner (the only person I’ve discussed it with so far) is supportive of Miyazaki precisely because it’s a new thing and it’s good for someone prominent (as far as he is prominent) to take the leave to encourage others. I don’t think it’s a west vs Japanese issue.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Thanks again. I certainly don’t expect that every Japanese individual will see it the same way. Simply that some Japanese adopt a radically different way of looking at the issue that has nothing to do with gender politics, while being a perspective that few Westerners would be likely to see immediately.

      • Sam Gilman

        I think the peer pressure you mention is precisely part of that politics. A different gender politics is still gender politics. Peer pressure is not just what others actually think, but what the person believes other people think. (And what each of those others believes other people think of how they should react).

        To me it looks as if what you’re reporting is the breakdown of trust in politicians overwhelming their ability to make statements like this.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Sorry, I don’t think that’s what I’m reporting at all. It’s more that while the antecedent of the pronoun in your phrase “statements like this” may seem obvious to you, at least a portion of the Japanese electorate who shares your general view about the appropriateness of paternal leave nonetheless doesn’t concur with you about what “statements like this” means — they see the “this” as something else, such as personal selfishness. Moreover, this mismatch in perceptions doesn’t arise from distrust of politicians, but rather from their affirmative notion of what a politician ought to be doing, namely prioritizing the needs of others ahead of his or her own. Please see my various replies to others in this thread — I explain this idea more fully there.

      • Sam Gilman

        Ah – I think I get your meaning now. Do you mean that the taking of paternity leave is prioritising one’s private interests before one’s public duty as a parliamentarian?

      • A.J. Sutter

        A qualified yes. Namely, that’s how some people see it, and especially when the parliamentarian seeks to enjoy a right that as a practical matter isn’t yet available to most people.

        There seem to be a few interwoven themes in the argument. One is a leadership theme — the MP should fight to make sure others can exercise a right before claiming it himself or herself. Another is a time and responsibility theme: as someone who won the public’s trust and who is paid by the public’s penny, the MP has an obligation to devote as much time as possible to the public’s business; if that’s too bitter for them, they should retire and return to the private sector.

        And then there is an economic argument added to the latter: at something like ¥21 million per year, each individual MP is making about 4 times the median Japanese household income. That puts them individually deep into the top 1% of household income (I’m looking at MHLW statistics); all the deeper when both members of the couple are MPs, as in Myazaki’s case. They’re better situated than almost anyone else to outsource child care — so they should do so, in light of their obligations to the public.

        Mariko Oi has an article on the BBC’s website about Miyazaki (“Should a male politician be allowed to take paternity leave,” 2016.01.06) that mentions how various politicians have raised some variant of each of these three different points. Before finding that piece this morning, I’d heard each of them from private people, as I’ve mentioned.

        Although Oi-san can’t resist mentioning the sexist culture of Japan for her readers, there isn’t anything inherently sexist about these three themes or about the people of my acquaintance who argue them. Each critique arises out of the claimant’s status as an MP, and some, especially the leadership argument, arise in connection with other issues unrelated to gender or family.

      • A.J. Sutter

        A qualified yes. Namely, that’s how some people see it, and especially when the parliamentarian seeks to enjoy a right that as a practical matter isn’t yet available to most people.

        There seem to be a few interwoven themes in the argument. One is a leadership theme — the MP should fight to make sure others can exercise a right before claiming it himself or herself. Another is a time and responsibility theme: as someone who won the public’s trust and who is paid by the public’s penny, the MP has an obligation to devote as much time as possible to the public’s business; if that’s too bitter for them, they should retire and return to the private sector.

        And then there is an economic argument added to the latter: at something like ¥21 million per year, each individual MP is making about 4 times the median Japanese household income. That puts them individually deep into the top 1% of household income (I’m looking at MHLW statistics); all the deeper when both members of the couple are MPs, as in Myazaki’s case. They’re better situated than almost anyone else to outsource child care — so they should do so, in light of their obligations to the public.

        Mariko Oi has an article on the BBC’s website about Miyazaki (“Should a male politician be allowed to take paternity leave,” 2016.01.06) that mentions how various politicians have raised some variant of each of these three different points. Before finding that piece this morning, I’d heard each of them from private people, as I’ve mentioned.

        Although Oi-san can’t resist mentioning the sexist culture of Japan for her readers, there isn’t anything inherently sexist about these three themes or about the people of my acquaintance who argue them. Each critique arises out of the claimant’s status as an MP, and some, especially the leadership argument, arise in connection with other issues unrelated to gender or family.

      • A.J. Sutter

        A qualified yes. Namely, that’s how some people see it, and especially when the parliamentarian seeks to enjoy a right that as a practical matter isn’t yet available to most people.

        There seem to be a few interwoven themes in the argument. One is a leadership theme — the MP should fight to make sure others can exercise a right before claiming it himself or herself. Another is a time and responsibility theme: as someone who won the public’s trust and who is paid by the public’s penny, the MP has an obligation to devote as much time as possible to the public’s business; if that’s too bitter for them, they should retire and return to the private sector.

        And then there is an economic argument added to the latter: at something like ¥21 million per year, each individual MP is making about 4 times the median Japanese household income. That puts them individually deep into the top 1% of household income (I’m looking at MHLW statistics); all the deeper when both members of the couple are MPs, as in Myazaki’s case. They’re better situated than almost anyone else to outsource child care — so they should do so, in light of their obligations to the public.

        Mariko Oi has an article on the BBC’s website about Miyazaki (“Should a male politician be allowed to take paternity leave,” 2016.01.06) that mentions how various politicians have raised some variant of each of these three different points. Before finding that piece this morning, I’d heard each of them from private people, as I’ve mentioned.

        Although Oi-san can’t resist mentioning the sexist culture of Japan for her readers, there isn’t anything inherently sexist about these three themes or about the people of my acquaintance who argue them. Each critique arises out of the claimant’s status as an MP, and some, especially the leadership argument, arise in connection with other issues unrelated to gender or family.

      • Sam Gilman

        The thing is, though, that those critiques come from a framing of childcare from within the paradigm that it is a purely private matter that should not interfere with a man’s public duties if he can help it. (I haven’t been aware of people saying that his wife should limit her time off.)

        This normalises full-time work as a male activity. (And how many women diet members are there…?) Childcare is not his function, not if he can outsource it to a wife or someone else. This is a classic historical pattern across the industrialised world. So I would argue that these critiques are related to gender.

        It is not un-Japanese to recognise this as a major source of gender inequality. Inequality in the workplace reinforces inequality at home and vice versa. It’s a vicious circle. The critique may have arisen in the west first, but the logic is not “western”. (and it’s hardly un-Japanese to look to other industrial countries for ideas on social policy) It also certainly isn’t alien to women who have been disadvantaged in the workplace here because of actual or prospective maternity. That’s what I find problematic: the idea that it is somehow not authentically Japanese to support the precedent of Miyazaki taking paternity leave. Patently quite a few Japanese do support the idea, in addition to those opposed.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Thanks for your persistence, but your premises are mistaken.

        First, while people I know recognize that giving birth is physiologically different from being a father and that zero time off is unreasonable, as I’ve stated the norm seems to be closer to 2 weeks off and then back to the Diet, as far as I’ve heard. They do criticize her for asking for for 12 weeks. To the extent this is underreported in the media more reflects the media’s sexism (or fascination with Japanese sexism, as with the BBC) than sexism inherent in the argument.

        Second, I have never claimed it was un-Japanese to recognize the gender inequality in this issue or to support Miyazaki. Plenty of Japanese do see it the way you do. Rather, my claim was closer to its being “un-Western” to see that the issue can be framed as *other than* a gender issue. Your point of view is shared by Japanese as well as Westerners, whereas those who hold the views I described are almost exclusively Japanese. (And just for the record, despite the fact that most people of my direct acquaintance hold some version of the latter group’s views, I didn’t make any claim their view was in the majority.) This is why I remarked on the preponderance of Western interviewees in JT’s article. Westerners have a very hard time seeing that there is an alternative take on this, as your comment well illustrates.

        If you’re claiming, and I’m neither sure that you are nor sure that you aren’t, that any opposition to Miyazaki taking parental leave is inescapably based on gender bias regardless of the ostensible reason given for the critique, then I’d simply have to say that claim is mistaken, and little progress could be made by further discussion.

      • Sam Gilman

        I understand the objections you list – I do live here, you know ;-) – but became confused by your insinuation that people who disagreed with them or didn’t rate them important enough were somehow not understanding some ineffable Japanese thought pattern, and that strong support for the idea that a precedent would be a good thing could only come about through a western upbringing. I’m afraid it comes across as an attempt to discredit the argument by foul means rather than critique it.

        Are all objections caught up in gender bias? No, of course not, but I would say rather more than you give credit for. It’s important not to limit bias simply to expressed or implied attitudes. For example, a belief that work and family life should be kept separate does not mean that the bearer of that belief is sexist. However, such a separation creates an institutionalised gender bias. The argument is that precisely because this separation is strongly embedded into Japanese working and social practices that it needs to be challenged, not ignorance of Japanese society. That’s why people who support the idea keep throwing the word “precedent” around. By international comparison, Japanese men take a much smaller part in domestic responsibilities, and it’s not because they’re lazy and it doesn’t mean they’re all sexist pigs. All kinds of institutional arrangements force and reinforce it. That has to change if we are to realise “womenomics”.

        A variation on this that I’ve read, that family responsibilities should not interfere with important work (he should give up being an MP etc) is not a gender-based argument in itself. Yet what it does is reinforce gender bias in the workplace. Men are more likely to have senior roles, and it thus creates a sense where women’s jobs are less important. (And who wants to say their work is not important? That could be emasculating…). So again, a precedent that even if a new father’s job is “important”, the done thing is to take leave. (Strategically vital work is another issue, but that’s not the case here). If we want greater gender equality and a higher birth rate, we need to eliminate as much as possible the trade-off between having children and having a career, and that includes the trade-off for people in the public eye.

        So my rejection of these kinds of objections is that they betray a lack of understanding of how deeply gender inequality is embedded into superficially unbiased common social and working practices. I’m not arguing that Japan needs to become like the west (whatever that might mean), but that doesn’t mean I should not want greater gender equality.

        I can give more credit to the argument that he may just be trying to get attention for himself, or that there is something unjust in him showboating his leave-taking when mere mortals like us cannot do this. I just don’t think they outweigh the benefits.

        Regarding the JT’s vox pop pieces always featuring a rather larger supply of foreigners than Japanese, I agree. I also agree that more balanced coverage of Japanese opinion on this is a good idea.

        P.S. I very much appreciate the thoroughly civil tone you take. Thank you.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Thanks. Sorry if you saw any insinuation: I never meant to suggest that Westerners are incapable of understanding the various arguments against Miyazaki, much less that they ought to agree with them — rather I meant that they were reasonable arguments not likely to occur to Westerners in the first instance. In that they might be something like the notion of eating food with sticks instead of piercing instruments, or eating raw fish rolled in rice and seaweed — things Westerners typically can get the knack of once they’re introduced to the idea, though it’s not likely to be something they’d dream up, nor is it necessarily to everyone’s taste.

        As for “womenomics,” I hope it’s never realized as currently conceived, because it’s a sham plan, pandering for votes. In our household we usually refer to it by the way it was introduced, with Abe saying he wanted Japan to be “a place where women SHINE” (his capitals) — which if read as romaji is telling them to “drop dead.” Rather, Japan needs civil rights laws, as well as a non-neoliberal “peoplenomics,” though I hope it can be called something catchier than that.

        Finally, I’d also disagree that the job of MP is necessarily seen as gendered. Plenty of women don’t perceive it that way, though de facto there are steep barriers to entry for ordinary citizens who try to enter without party backing. E.g., someone who wants to run for the Diet has to put up a deposit of ¥3 million (roughly US$30K at pre-Abe exchange rates) unless they find a party willing to pony up the funds — compare that to about $750 in the UK and $100-$1,800 in the various US states. (By the way, what’s the best way to get party backing? Be the child of an MP or other successful politician. Miyazaki and Kaneko could be founding a dynasty — though Kaneko-san is herself the daughter of a mayor.) No question many *members* of the Diet are surely sexist, but that doesn’t mean that the role itself is gendered. The importance of the work comes from the public trust, not the fact that most of its practitioners currently are men.

        I’m confident about that because I speak as someone who is currently moving from Tokyo, where I work, to live for at least several years in my wife’s hometown in Tohoku, following her so that she can lay the groundwork for her candidacy in the 2019 election cycle. (She’s self-made, BTW, and was picked up through a political party’s open “casting call” for candidates.) Chopping the deposit to a fraction of its current size is one of her top priorities, so that independents of all genders can have an easier shot of representing their fellow citizens and diversifying the current thought-collective in the Diet.

        I think at this point I’ve said all I can say about this topic without repeating myself, and I’ve probably already done that. I appreciate the civil tone, too. Thanks again.

      • Sam Gilman

        I understand the objections you list – I do live here, you know ;-) – but became confused by your insinuation that people who disagreed with them or didn’t rate them important enough were somehow not understanding some ineffable Japanese thought pattern, and that strong support for the idea that a precedent would be a good thing could only come about through a western upbringing. I’m afraid it comes across as an attempt to discredit the argument by foul means rather than critique it.

        Are all objections caught up in gender bias? No, of course not, but I would say rather more than you give credit for. It’s important not to limit bias simply to expressed or implied attitudes. For example, a belief that work and family life should be kept separate does not mean that the bearer of that belief is sexist. However, such a separation creates an institutionalised gender bias. The argument is that precisely because this separation is strongly embedded into Japanese working and social practices that it needs to be challenged, not ignorance of Japanese society. That’s why people who support the idea keep throwing the word “precedent” around. By international comparison, Japanese men take a much smaller part in domestic responsibilities, and it’s not because they’re lazy and it doesn’t mean they’re all sexist pigs. All kinds of institutional arrangements force and reinforce it. That has to change if we are to realise “womenomics”.

        A variation on this that I’ve read, that family responsibilities should not interfere with important work (he should give up being an MP etc) is not a gender-based argument in itself. Yet what it does is reinforce gender bias in the workplace. Men are more likely to have senior roles, and it thus creates a sense where women’s jobs are less important. (And who wants to say their work is not important? That could be emasculating…). So again, a precedent that even if a new father’s job is “important”, the done thing is to take leave. (Strategically vital work is another issue, but that’s not the case here). If we want greater gender equality and a higher birth rate, we need to eliminate as much as possible the trade-off between having children and having a career, and that includes the trade-off for people in the public eye.

        So my rejection of these kinds of objections is that they betray a lack of understanding of how deeply gender inequality is embedded into superficially unbiased common social and working practices. I’m not arguing that Japan needs to become like the west (whatever that might mean), but that doesn’t mean I should not want greater gender equality.

        I can give more credit to the argument that he may just be trying to get attention for himself, or that there is something unjust in him showboating his leave-taking when mere mortals like us cannot do this. I just don’t think they outweigh the benefits.

        Regarding the JT’s vox pop pieces always featuring a rather larger supply of foreigners than Japanese, I agree. I also agree that more balanced coverage of Japanese opinion on this is a good idea.

        P.S. I very much appreciate the thoroughly civil tone you take. Thank you.

      • A.J. Sutter

        A qualified yes. Namely, that’s how some people see it, and especially when the parliamentarian seeks to enjoy a right that as a practical matter isn’t yet available to most people.

        There seem to be a few interwoven themes in the argument. One is a leadership theme — the MP should fight to make sure others can exercise a right before claiming it himself or herself. Another is a time and responsibility theme: as someone who won the public’s trust and who is paid by the public’s penny, the MP has an obligation to devote as much time as possible to the public’s business; if that’s too bitter for them, they should retire and return to the private sector.

        And then there is an economic argument added to the latter: at something like ¥21 million per year, each individual MP is making about 4 times the median Japanese household income. That puts them individually deep into the top 1% of household income (I’m looking at MHLW statistics); all the deeper when both members of the couple are MPs, as in Myazaki’s case. They’re better situated than almost anyone else to outsource child care — so they should do so, in light of their obligations to the public.

        Mariko Oi has an article on the BBC’s website about Miyazaki (“Should a male politician be allowed to take paternity leave,” 2016.01.06) that mentions how various politicians have raised some variant of each of these three different points. Before finding that piece this morning, I’d heard each of them from private people, as I’ve mentioned.

        Although Oi-san can’t resist mentioning the sexist culture of Japan for her readers, there isn’t anything inherently sexist about these three themes or about the people of my acquaintance who argue them. Each critique arises out of the claimant’s status as an MP, and some, especially the leadership argument, arise in connection with other issues unrelated to gender or family.

      • A.J. Sutter

        A qualified yes. Namely, that’s how some people see it, and especially when the parliamentarian seeks to enjoy a right that as a practical matter isn’t yet available to most people.

        There seem to be a few interwoven themes in the argument. One is a leadership theme — the MP should fight to make sure others can exercise a right before claiming it himself or herself. Another is a time and responsibility theme: as someone who won the public’s trust and who is paid by the public’s penny, the MP has an obligation to devote as much time as possible to the public’s business; if that’s too bitter for them, they should retire and return to the private sector.

        And then there is an economic argument added to the latter: at something like ¥21 million per year, each individual MP is making about 4 times the median Japanese household income. That puts them individually deep into the top 1% of household income (I’m looking at MHLW statistics); all the deeper when both members of the couple are MPs, as in Myazaki’s case. They’re better situated than almost anyone else to outsource child care — so they should do so, in light of their obligations to the public.

        Mariko Oi has an article on the BBC’s website about Miyazaki (“Should a male politician be allowed to take paternity leave,” 2016.01.06) that mentions how various politicians have raised some variant of each of these three different points. Before finding that piece this morning, I’d heard each of them from private people, as I’ve mentioned.

        Although Oi-san can’t resist mentioning the sexist culture of Japan for her readers, there isn’t anything inherently sexist about these three themes or about the people of my acquaintance who argue them. Each critique arises out of the claimant’s status as an MP, and some, especially the leadership argument, arise in connection with other issues unrelated to gender or family.

      • A.J. Sutter

        A qualified yes. Namely, that’s how some people see it, and especially when the parliamentarian seeks to enjoy a right that as a practical matter isn’t yet available to most people.

        There seem to be a few interwoven themes in the argument. One is a leadership theme — the MP should fight to make sure others can exercise a right before claiming it himself or herself. Another is a time and responsibility theme: as someone who won the public’s trust and who is paid by the public’s penny, the MP has an obligation to devote as much time as possible to the public’s business; if that’s too bitter for them, they should retire and return to the private sector.

        And then there is an economic argument added to the latter: at something like ¥21 million per year, each individual MP is making about 4 times the median Japanese household income. That puts them individually deep into the top 1% of household income (I’m looking at MHLW statistics); all the deeper when both members of the couple are MPs, as in Myazaki’s case. They’re better situated than almost anyone else to outsource child care — so they should do so, in light of their obligations to the public.

        Mariko Oi has an article on the BBC’s website about Miyazaki (“Should a male politician be allowed to take paternity leave,” 2016.01.06) that mentions how various politicians have raised some variant of each of these three different points. Before finding that piece this morning, I’d heard each of them from private people, as I’ve mentioned.

        Although Oi-san can’t resist mentioning the sexist culture of Japan for her readers, there isn’t anything inherently sexist about these three themes or about the people of my acquaintance who argue them. Each critique arises out of the claimant’s status as an MP, and some, especially the leadership argument, arise in connection with other issues unrelated to gender or family.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    It’s indicative of so much in Japan, and particularly politics, that is done merely for appearances sake. Japan, along with South Korea, has some of the most generous paternity leave in the world; however the greatest percentage of men either don’t know about it, or feel enormous pressure not to take it. Abe may talk about change, but it’s all basically just 建って前.

  • skillet

    I really liked the custom of satogaeri or going back home to have a baby. My Japanese wife went back to her home town to be surrounded by all the women folk who waited on her hand and foot. And gave her tips for looking after our baby. That was almost 20 years ago. I was able to stay in Osaka and work. Focus on earning a paycheck for the family.

    All this social engineering to get men to stay home is useless. I am not against some of it,l but the focus should be encouraging people to maintain ties with the extended family.

    Once the government starts doing for people, the systems of natural law that have allowed us to survive for millenia start to collapse.