While women have long been the main caregivers for elderly parents in Japan, the country’s rapidly aging population, coupled with the prevalence of smaller families in recent generations, has resulted in more men taking on the responsibility.
Among them are a growing number of men in management positions who in the past may have relied on their wives to do the job, but who no longer have the option due to their spouses’ own work or family care commitments.
Masatoshi Bamba, 53, a municipal government section chief in Osaka Prefecture, travels more than an hour each way to visit his parents in Kyoto every weekend.
His 83-year-old father is unwell, including with dementia, while his mother, 82, is suffering from the aftereffects of a stroke and a fractured thigh.
His parents live on their own, using home care and other nursing services under a certification that says they require long-term daily care.
In case of an emergency such as sudden hospitalization, Bamba rushes to their home even on weekdays.
He said he cannot rely on his wife because she is also working and busy taking care of their five children.
Bamba once broke down with fatigue. Since then he has come to pay more attention to his own health and tries to make necessary work arrangements to juggle both roles.
“I have learned a lot from taking care of my parents,” Bamba said.
“Accumulated experiences in settling problems under difficult circumstances has helped me improve my judgment and widened my view.”
Yasuyuki Takahashi, 53, president of Tokyo-based caregiver placement agency Pasona Lifecare Inc., describes himself as a “care boss” and blogs about his experience caring for his parents.
Takahashi’s father, 87, was once designated as needing a high level of long-term daily care but later was able to regain his walking ability thanks to physical therapy. Last year, however, he suffered a compression fracture in his lower back.
His 84-year-old mother is having trouble with her legs. Takahashi said his wife also needed to care for her parents.
He used to visit his parents often in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, when he lived in nearby Osaka for a job assignment.
However, he now lives further away and instead calls them to check their physical and living conditions and provide necessary information to their caregivers on a daily basis.
The experience has helped Takahashi understand the situation of his subordinates taking care of their parents.
Takahashi used to tell them, “Well, you’re doing well.”
“But now I can engage in deeper discussion with them,” he said.
A 44-year-old female employee, who is looking after her father who is in long-term daily care, said Takahashi was an “understanding boss.”
He has “allowed me to use a variety of programs such as working from home,” she said.
Major staffing agency Pasona Inc., parent company of Pasona Lifecare, carried out a project last year for managerial and other employees on the assumption that they need to visit their family homes to care for their parents.
The project has “made me ready when necessary,” a participant said.
“The question of managerial workers caring for their parents has come to the surface over the past few years against the backdrop of the extended lifespan of people,” said Masashi Fukabori, a consultant at Work Life Balance Co. in Tokyo, which offers consultation services on work-life balance.
“Work will become chaotic if nothing is done,” Fukabori said. “But a smooth transfer of authority (from managerial workers) will help subordinates develop and share information between them. Company-wide backup is necessary to address the issue.”