LDP lawmaker faces off against his party’s old guard over child care leave plan

by

Staff Writer

Liberal Democratic Party Lower House lawmaker Kensuke Miyazaki wanted to do something to change the nation’s declining birthrate, so he announced last month he planned to take child care leave after his wife gives birth.

The representative from Kyoto’s No. 3 district now has another hurdle to overcome: changing the mindset of the LDP’s old guard, many of whom criticized his plan.

On Thursday, Hachiro Okonogi, the LDP’s deputy Diet affairs chief, told a regular news conference that male lawmakers taking child care leave was inappropriate.

“It’s about whether the public will approve of it,” he said.

Miyazaki, 34, wrote on his blog Thursday that he was beyond shocked by the negative comments coming out of his party, which included remarks that it was all a mere publicity stunt and that he should simply hire a nanny to take care of the baby.

“It is natural for parents to take care of a child from birth to the age of three, the most important period when a child is forming his or her personality,” Miyazaki said. “I can understand why the issue of the declining birthrate hasn’t made any headway.”

When contacted by The Japan Times for comment, Miyazaki said he couldn’t say anything because he was told not to. He did not say if the instruction came from LDP executives.

The LDP lawmaker, whose wife, fellow Lower House LDP member Megumi Kaneko, is due to give birth next month, said on the blog it was imperative for men to play a greater role in child-rearing when the government is trying to push more women into the workforce to overcome labor shortages.

Kaneko, for her part, plans to take three months off to take care of their child.

Miyazaki is planning to submit a proposal to the Lower House to change the rules to allow child care leave for all lawmakers.

Although the rules for Lower House members have a provision for maternity leave, there is no such measure for paternity leave. It is believed that no male lawmaker has ever taken a leave of absence to care for a child.

At present, the Kyoto lawmaker plans to report his absence each time the Lower House holds a plenary meeting, but hopes to participate in voting on important bills.

Still, Miyazaki has one influential and powerful LDP ally on his side.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his support for Miyazaki’s plan when the two met on Monday.

“There may be divided opinions but (what I’m doing is always) supported by half and opposed by the other half,” Abe told Miyazaki. “That is what a politician is about,” he added.

  • CLJF

    Good on Miyazaki for taking this step and shame on Okonogi and other LDP members who criticised him – they claim “public understanding” as the reason for not supporting paternity leave, but I think the public would very much understand and support Miyazaki in this. It is the LDP critics that are out of touch. As Miyazaki said, with politicians like that, it’s no wonder Japan’s birthrate remains low.

    • 69station

      One thing: if a very small minority (LDP politicians) are “out of touch” with the public, then that cannot explain Japan’s low birthrate, which is almost exclusively due to what the public thinks about having children. In fact, Japan’s birthrate is not particularly low by the standards of developed countries, though one would not get that impression from general media reporting.

  • solodoctor

    Kudos to Miyazaki for doing this. And to Abe for supporting him. I hope more Diet members will come out with similar announcements if/when their spouses have a child. And that the public supports Miyazaki, too. These patriarchal attitudes die a very hard death!

  • Peter

    A small point I picked up: he goes by the name Miyazaki and his wife goes by the name Kaneko. If they are legally married, they must have the same surname. So we can assume one of them is still going by their pre-marriage surname despite it no longer being their legal name. (Anyone want to guess which one it is?)
    I wonder if they would both vote in favour of changing the law that requires couples to have the surname…

    • LaikaCatMeow

      One would hope so, given the very feminist stance he’s taken on parental leave. If they’re both using separate surnames, I assume he doesn’t have an opinion on his wife using his name over her own.

      It’d be nice if a male lawmaker in the US made such a vocal statement about parental leave, but alas we can’t even agree on the issue over here. We’re slightly better than Japan in regards to gender equality — but only slightly. Sigh.

      • Buck

        He is not taking a feminist stance. He is taking a stance for equality and better parenting. Don`t try to highjack humanism and equality and call it feminism.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    It certainly is good to see someone taking a stand against the old fossils that run this country. I’ve taught men who couldn’t tell me anything about their children beyond their names because they hardly ever saw them. They had to think hard to recall their ages, birthdays; and had no idea about their hobbies, likes or dislikes, or friends. This is NOT natural. It’s a false, socially imposed situation that is unhealthy. Before the usual detractors appear, of course there are some cases where the father’s work takes precedence; but the fact is Japan has one of the most generous provisions for paternal leave in the world. Far better than most English speaking countries. The trouble is 1) it’s not well advertised or known, 2) this kind of shaming is heaped on anyone who is brave enough to take it. Companies will claim they need all the staff they have. To me that sounds like very bad corporate planning. There should be enough staff to take over from those who need time off when necessary, every car needs a spare tyre.

    • Michel Rodrigues

      It seems to be very hard to live there.

  • http://aroundtokyo.net/blog/ Rohan Gillett

    If no one starts taking this leave due to the backlash they would probably face, then nothing will ever change. If Miyazaki can get the ball rolling and start a culture change about this issue, more power to him I say.

  • A.J. Sutter

    There’s an entirely different way of framing this issue that leads to a different result. Namely, that an MP is not a sarariiman. That is in fact how most Japanese voters of my acquaintance see the issue, including women.

    Someone elected to the Kokkai has a special responsibility to the public. That’s not necessarily to say they should abstain from procreating while in office, but they should try to minimize their absence as much as possible. In the past, some women MPs have come back to work in 2 weeks or less after giving birth. Men don’t have any need to recuperate physically, and so they certainly hsouldn’t be asking for 3 months, as Miyazaki is. It’s also questionable whether his wife, who’s also an MP, should take off so much time, too.

    The people I speak to feel that if either or both want to take off three months, it would be better for them to resign from the Kokkai to do so, and stand again in the next election. I think this is reasonable — especialy because by the time they come back it will almost be the Golden Week adjournment. If, as most suspect, there will be a double election in the summer, then both members of the couple will have missed most of the legislative session.

    There’s a further wrinkle to this that makes Miyazaki’s stance look even worse: he’s claiming a privilege that as a practical matter most working men can’t exercise. He should be the *last* to seek this advantage, only after he’s made sure that *all* working men get the same chance. There’s an MP from the Iwate Sanriku coast who’s living in temporary housing due to the 2011 tsunami. He can move to a better house. But he’s chosen to be the last guy to move out, until his constituents have all been moved to better housing. That’s the spirit that Miyazaki should show.

  • Matthew Wesley Howatt

    I hope this is the beginning of a potentially very important trend for the future of the great land of Japan.. Raising children with a mother & father present in their lives is more important than numbers in computers in bank accounts.. Yes, the bills need to be paid, but children outta have their fathers more present in their daily lives.. This is healthy

    -Matt Howatt

  • tomado

    Hachiro Okonogi is quite a scummy old guy. Wish there were hope for him to be voted out and banished to oblivion. I doubt the electorate pays much attention and the old geezers are pretty selfish.

  • Mireille

    Funny that a certain opponent is only one according this article. I wanna know how many LDP members are against his plan.