The hashtag #KozurekaigiOK, which translates roughly as “It’s OK to bring a child to a meeting,” began trending in late November. The trigger was a female politician’s decision to bring her child to a Kumamoto assembly session, which sparked a nationwide debate on child care options for parents juggling work and family responsibilities.
While the discourse on adequate child care and work-life policies for parents, particularly mothers, isn’t new to Japan, the politician’s actions caused a stir online.
Hiroki Komazaki, founder of NPO Florence, which provides accessible medical and child care solutions, penned an article titled, “Is it wrong to bring a baby to a meeting?” and tweeted his support for the hashtag, adding that he hoped the practice of allowing children in professional settings such as meetings, interviews and lectures would spread.
In the wake of the politician’s action in November, the Kumamoto Municipal Government received 563 submissions from its citizens, with more than half calling for a change to the existing policy. The local government responded by announcing in December that they would set up a child care facility in the City Hall in 2018. Prefectures such as Fukushima, Miyagi and Tokyo have already introduced nursery facilities in government office buildings.
However, the debate over whether working parents should be allowed to bring their children to work appears to be far from over.
On Jan. 5, BuzzFeed Japan published an interview with Mariko Oi, a Japanese BBC World reporter, that focused on her experiences as a working mother who brought her two young children to the studio when she covered U.S.President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan.
On the day of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump’s joint press conference, Oi went into the BBC’s Tokyo bureau with her 3-year-old daughter, 3-month-old son and mother in tow. When she wasn’t live on air, she was holding her son and writing articles on her smartphone.
Oi noted that while increasing the number of nursery schools and providing adequate maternity leave and child care options are are vital steps in supporting working mothers, it’s also necessary to acknowledge the unique needs and values of individuals in terms of child care. As such, she says, “a policy system created by the government will not necessarily solve all problems.”
Readers applauded Oi for her dedication to her job and family, and the BBC for its support of working parents. Fellow journalist and mother of two Jibu Renge tweeted her support for the article, stating: “This is article is really good! The article addresses other important aspects, not just ‘policies’ or ‘nursery schools.’”
In a similar vein, a Jan. 10 Forbes Japan interview with the executives of Campfire and SmartHR, two startup companies championing efforts to allow parents to bring children to work, touched on the #KozurekaigiOK campaign. SmartHR develops a cloud-based personnel and labor management platform, while Campfire manages its namesake crowdfunding platform, Campfire.
Campfire CEO Kazuma Ireiri admits there is opposition to bringing children to work but a change in mentality would be helpful. “I think a more effective approach would be to give employees a choice by saying, ‘We can look after the children together and get the work done,’ rather than giving employees no choice but to stay home from work and look after their child,” Ireiri says. “That approach is more likely to alleviate the pressures of child care.”
Yoshio Hashimoto of NPO Florence responded positively to the article, saying, “The hashtag supports this idea as well, but instead of saying ‘We may as well bring our kids to the workplace,’ it is better to say, ‘Well, it is good to have the choice to bring our kids to work,’ because it’s important to have the flexibility of choices and a work-life (balance).”
Engineering an environment in which parents can bring children into their workplaces is no small feat — it entails changing rigid views on professional etiquette and practices. With increasing global attention on women’s rights and the country’s recent drop in the World Economic Forum’s global gender equality ranking, Japan is probably long overdue for a change.