Schools now teach boys about home skills

by Sawako Obara

Kyodo

For many young Japanese men, homemaking has become a necessary skill as they redefine their roles as husbands and fathers.

More men in their 30s and younger are taking housework for granted since home economics classes became mandatory in junior and senior high school about two decades ago.

Some schools even have male home economics teachers and cooking clubs with boys in them.

Yuta Oyamada, 29, teaches homemaking to boys at Tezukayama Junior High School in Nara.

During a recent lesson on diets, Oyamada taught about how pigs are raised, explaining terms like shoulder roast and boned rib using a diagram.

Like other men of his generation, Oyamada took homemaking classes in junior and senior high school. He was especially good at needlework and when he became a teacher he opted to take charge of such classes.

“I want my students to be able to take care of themselves in the future,” Oyamada said.

Currently single, he plans to be actively involved in doing housework and raising children when he gets married. He added, however, that it is not right to force the idea on students.

Homemaking classes became mandatory for junior high school students in 1993 and senior high students in 1994.

Until then, with the exception of a short period of time, it was customary for girls to take homemaking classes and boys to take industrial art classes. Gender stereotypes were thus instilled during adolescence.

Nowadays, even boys’ schools put a great deal of effort into homemaking classes, as seen by the cookery club at St. Viator Rakusei Senior High School in Kyoto, which won second place in a national competition dominated by girls.

The club’s leader, 17-year-old Yuji Nishi, said he joined because he “wants to be able to cook a proper meal” when he finally leaves home.

Asked about traditional gender roles that restrict women to the home, Nishi said, “I think it’s good for everyone to have choices.”

Kiyomi Hatanaka, a homemaking teacher at the school, said few students nowadays think women should only do housework. “They view being able to cook as something cool,” Hatanaka said.

Azabu Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, one of the top boys’ schools, also places an emphasis on home economics.

Its policy is that talented people who will become pillars of society in the future must possess practical as well as academic knowledge. Its homemaking curriculum includes direct experiences interacting with babies and handicapped people.

Changes can be seen among young employees, too.

Naoki Atsumi at Toray Corporate Business Research Inc., who is conducting research on workplace support measures to achieve a work-life balance, said men who have taken homemaking classes have a different attitude toward child-rearing than older men.

“This generation thinks it is only natural for men to take part in raising children,” Atsumi said. In fact, they rather dislike being referred to as “ikumen,” a recently coined term that refers to men who now actively participate in child raising, she said.

Experts also point to other benefits from the mandatory classes.

“Since students also learn a broad spectrum of topics including child care and welfare, we believe that homemaking classes help nurture students’ ability to put themselves in the shoes of the elderly and think about welfare issues,” said Kimiko Kono, head of a home economics education group called Zenkoku Kateika Kyouiku Kyoukai.

Yoko Ito, a professor of home economics education at Chiba University, said such lessons are essential for independence.

“If one tries to balance work, household chores and raising children, then surely one won’t work in a way that destroys one’s health,” Ito added. “The things learned in homemaking classes are bound to help the students in their lives down the road.”