A vice minister has given up using a chauffeured official car to take her child to day care after drawing political flak, but some working mothers have expressed sympathy for the 39-year-old lawmaker.
The Shukan Shincho weekly magazine accused Megumi Kaneko of “mixing up official and private matters” when it reported in late June that she had used an official vehicle to transport her 1-year-old son to his nursery.
Picking up on the report, Renho, leader of the main opposition force, the Democratic Party, criticized Kaneko, a Lower House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, saying the conduct constitutes “private use of an official vehicle.”
Kaneko, the parliamentary vice minister of internal affairs and communications, argued it was a nonissue because the nursery, Kids Square Nagatacho, is in the same building as her Diet office.
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi also said it “does not constitute an operational problem.”
Kaneko said she usually uses a stroller to take her son to the day care center, a 20-minute walk from her residence in a Diet dormitory, and walks back home if she needs the car for official duties in other parts of Tokyo.
She said she only used the car to take her son to the nursery when she was short of time.
But she pledged to take him there by stroller from now on.
“I take all the criticisms seriously and offer a sincere apology to all who are struggling to find the right work-life balance if I made them feel uncomfortable,” she wrote in a post on her blog.
Following the magazine report, former Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru, 59, who is also a TV celebrity, tweeted that Kaneko should show the public the sight of her pushing a stroller in the morning, which he said would encourage other working mothers and help gain public trust.
But in response to Higashikokubaru’s comment, one of his Twitter followers tweeted: “What’s the problem? I’d rather she be allowed to spend her time more wisely.”
During street interviews, many working mothers voiced support for the vice minister.
“I envy her,” said an office worker in her 30s in Ota Ward, Tokyo, who was taking her 1-year-old daughter to a nursery by bicycle. “Women will never be successful without public understanding of their child-rearing role.”
Banning the vice minister from using the vehicle would be “narrow-minded,” she said.
Another office worker in her 30s from Yokohama said, “Because the vehicle is funded by taxpayers, she cannot help being criticized.”
But the woman, who takes her 1-year-old son by stroller to a nursery every day, added, “Since the day care center is on her way to work, it should be acceptable.”
Meanwhile, a 40-year-old self-employed woman from Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, who has a 1-year-old son questioned whether it is necessary to allot a vehicle to each parliamentary vice minister in the first place. But concerning this particular case, she said that Kaneko “uses day care for work, so I don’t think it is a case of mixing up public and private matters.”
An academic expressed even stronger support for Kaneko.
Lully Miura, a lecturer at the Policy Alternatives Research Institute at the University of Tokyo, said many Japanese believe family issues should not be brought to work.
“She did not violate any rules and she should be allowed to use an official vehicle to juggle her responsibilities as a parliamentary vice minister (and mother),” said Miura, 36, the mother of a child herself.
“It sets a bad example that lawmakers, regardless of whether they are men or women, are not allowed to use an official car to take their children to a nursery,” she said. “Other lawmakers raising children should have taken her side and supported her.”
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