Osaka Prefecture has decided to go ahead with a national government program allowing foreign nationals to work as housekeepers as part of a larger push toward greater participation of women in the workforce.

Some industry insiders have been quick to point out, however, that the program’s success hinges on the government’s assistance in priming Japanese households to make use of housekeepers, Japanese or otherwise.

Housework has traditionally been the exclusive domain of the women in a household.

“Most people still haven’t even used Japanese maids,” said Yuki Takahashi, managing director of Bears Co., a large Tokyo-based housekeeper dispatch agency with nationwide operations.

“We need people who understand what housekeepers are all about, people who will ask us to dispatch them. Unless the government encourages households to use housekeepers, the market will remain small.”

Advancing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to prop up the nation’s dwindling working population by enticing more women to work, Osaka Prefecture leaders on Wednesday formally endorsed a plan to allow foreign nationals who will work as housekeepers in the city of Osaka, taking advantage of its status as a special national strategic zone.

The local government is following in the footsteps of Kanagawa Prefecture, also a special national strategic zone, which in December became the first to back allowing foreign nationals to reside in its borders while working as housekeepers.

If Osaka’s plans are approved by the prime minster, it will become the second local government to introduce such a program.

“We want to introduce more labor from overseas according to existing needs,” said Gov. Ichiro Matsui in a news conference following the prefecture’s strategic committee meeting Wednesday.

Japan’s rapidly graying and dwindling population means it faces a steep decline in its workforce. To counter this, and as a key plank of his Abenomics policy, Abe has touted creating a society “in which women can shine.”

The hope is that relaxing working visa requirements in designated special economic zones will help reduce the burden on married women, which typically includes household chores such as child rearing, cleaning, cooking and washing.

“But Osaka sees the program’s goal in a broader sense,” said a prefectural official. “(Household chores) are now a burden not only for women, but for families as a whole, including senior citizens and young people.

“As such, we are hoping that the program will create one option to reduce such burdens and eventually trigger a wave of moves to expand different working lifestyles,” the official said.

Industry insiders say demand for housekeepers is growing in the Kansai region, which has Osaka — Japan’s second-largest city — at its center, though acceptance has been slow compared to Tokyo.

“It seemed to me there wasn’t much demand in Kansai, but I have the impression it has started to grow in the second half of 2015 as an option for double-income couples,” said Sachiko Wada, who operates the Taskaji online service that matches people seeking household assistance with those who wish to provide it.

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