From veterans to rookies, male lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party sliced tomatoes, grilled salmon and fried chicken as they exemplified ways in which husbands can share in household duties during a political event on Wednesday promoting female participation in the workplace.
The event, organized by a group of LDP lawmakers campaigning for greater female empowerment, saw party heavyweights such as Hakubun Shimomura and Hiroyuki Hosoda picking up kitchen skills from a cooking expert as they struggled to make basic dishes such as karaage, or deep-fried chicken.
The event is part of a broader attempt by the government to encourage men in Japan — where the mentality of “men at work, women at home” still runs deep — to step out of their comfort zones and proactively participate in child-rearing and household responsibilities. It also aims to back up Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s much-hyped goal of creating a society “where all women can shine.”
In order to promote active participation by women in the workforce, “it’s imperative that men and women divvy up the workload of the household,” Jiro Kawasaki, Chairman of Headquarters for Promoting Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens in the LDP, said at the start of the event.
“We decided to start out with what is perhaps the most commonplace domestic chore of all — cooking,” Kawasaki said.
Rui Matsukawa, one of the chief LDP lawmakers involved in organizing the event, agrees.
“The whole point is for the unlikeliest cooks to show the public that they’re willing to cook. … You can’t really imagine lawmakers like Mr. Shimomura or Mr. Hosono holding a kitchen knife, can you?” she told The Japan Times.
“I believe the sight of them in the kitchen will help convince many men out there that they, too, can cook,” Matsukawa said.
Although the days are long gone where a kitchen was considered the preserve of women, Japan lags significantly behind other developed countries in moving past the old gender stereotype.
A 2011 government survey showed that Japanese husbands with a children aged 5 or younger spend an average 67 minutes a day doing household chores, shopping, and caring for children and infirm family members. This compares with 180 minutes spent by men in Germany, 178 minutes in the U.S., 166 minutes in the U.K. and 150 minutes in France, according to figures compiled by the Cabinet Office.
“It was fun to cook,” junior lawmaker Takuma Miyaji said as he savored his homemade karaage. Miyaji marveled at the high-tech integrated kitchen system that automatically kept oil at 180 degrees, thereby sparing him most of the hard work.
“I usually don’t cook, but from today, I will make it a habit to enter the kitchen. That would be a start.”
Wednesday’s cooking event came weeks after the Gender Equality Bureau of the Cabinet Office launched a similar project aimed at encouraging Japanese men to make what it calls “otohan” (dads’ food).
“Otohan” — a play on the words otosan (dad) and han (food) — was coined by the government agency to refer to the often aesthetically unappealing meals cooked by fathers who have little culinary experience.
The otohan campaign is the government’s way of assuring them that it is OK if dads cook something that looks bad as long as it tastes good.
“Otohan, as we call it, perhaps looks a little unsightly, but it’s the kind of meal that is tasty and easy to cook,” the Cabinet Office said in a statement explaining the campaign.
“With this, we wanted men who have never cooked to take a first stab at tackling culinary duties.”
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