Manabu Tsukagoshi, a Tokyo-based consultant, took a month of paternity leave after his second child was born. That prompted his wife, a homemaker, to get a full-time job in the financial industry.

"When someone asks why I would take such leave when my wife was a stay-at-home mom, I tell them it was for her to go back to work," said Tsukagoshi, 38, who plans to take leave again later this year from Toray Corporate Business Research Inc. when his wife returns to work after having their third child. "We need role models to show that there are fathers who can do this."

While Tsukagoshi is among a tiny minority in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants men to take more active roles in child rearing under a campaign dubbed the "ikumen" project, which translates as men raising children. Just 1.9 percent of Japanese men took paternity leave in 2012, according to figures from the Cabinet Office. The goal is to raise the figure to 13 percent by 2020.