National

Marriage quest finds some Japanese men looking to share household duties with female partners

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Tokyoite Kiyoshi is 38 years old and is still waiting for luck in love. But when he finds his future life partner, he says he will be willing to handle family duties in the belief that men’s and women’s roles at home are equal.

“I believe that when you get married, you need to be actively involved in child-rearing. This is something you need to do as a couple,” Kiyoshi, who only wanted to be identified by his first name for privacy reasons, said at a recent event in Tokyo aimed at preparing men for their role as dutiful fathers.

Kiyoshi’s case is an example of Japanese men who are gradually shifting perspective on marriage and family life, as well as men’s struggles to respond to the demands of society.

Kiyoshi, a manufacturer who assembles parts for kitchen appliances, wants to become an ikumen, a Japanese slang word for fathers who take an active role in child-rearing.

Kiyoshi was one of the men and women who gathered at the office of Tokyo-based matchmaking service provider Nozze in February, hoping to get a glimpse of married life and what it means to be a parent. They tried their hands at bathing baby dolls, learned about women’s burdens during and after pregnancy, and the correlation between men’s involvement in household affairs and divorce.

Hirokazu, a 35-year-old IT worker who attended the event, wore a mommy-tummy vest with a 7-kg load that helps men experience the feeling of being pregnant. “This made me realize how amazing women are,” he said. “I really respect them.”

The participants asked that their last names be withheld for privacy reasons.

“I hope the event will give a clue about the lives of couples beyond the marriage ceremony and childbirth,” said Takeshi Akiyama, a consultant who gave a lecture at the event.

“People picture a wedding ceremony as the climax of marriage, but in fact it’s just the start of life in marriage,” said Akiyama, who runs a marriage agency in Osaka and has married off about 250 couples.

Akiyama, who is also involved in a government campaign endorsing child-rearing fathers, said he has drawn lessons from his own marriage, which has not always been picture perfect.

Akiyama, 41, became a father in his second year in high school. He debuted as a boxer at the age of 19 but soon gave up his dream to ensure his family had a stable income. He started his own business as an electrician but said his sacrifice of family time for work caused him to miss out on family activities and nearly ended his marriage.

“I was surprised when my wife handed me divorce papers,” he said. “At that time, I thought my dedication to work was proof of dedication to my family.”

He gives lectures at companies where the majority of employees are male because he believes that as long as Japan’s working culture remains unchanged, men will have to continue struggling to find time to share with their families.

Despite the government’s push for labor reforms to reduce working hours, Japan still lags behind other nations when it comes to men’s participation in household affairs.

A 2016 report by the Cabinet Office’s Gender Equality Bureau says Japanese men spend only an average of 83 minutes per day on family duties, including 49 minutes on child-rearing, compared with men in the U.S., for instance, who spend twice as much time with their families.

A study that major gas appliance maker Rinnai Corp. conducted in December on 500 working couples from Japan, Germany, Denmark, South Korea and the U.S. found that only 56 percent of the couples in Japan shared household duties, the lowest among the surveyed countries.

The figures were much higher in other countries, including 93 percent in the U.S. and 87 percent in South Korea.

So why are men like Kiyoshi and Hirokazu still single?

“More women pursue full-time careers these days and put high expectations on men,” while men don’t know how to live up to women’s expectations, said Ayumi Kiriu, a spokeswoman for Nozze.

“I had never thought about what awaits me once I get married,” Kiyoshi said after the lecture, which he said taught him how to communicate with and support women.

“Most couples are working couples now,” stressed Makiko, a 34-year-old Tokyo insurance worker who attended the event. “I want to share the idea of child-rearing with my future partner, and I think all people who surround women should realize that women can’t take care of the household by themselves.”

Another woman, Yuka, 36, from Saitama Prefecture, said she joined the event because she was “curious how many men are really interested in committing to their families and what men really think about child-rearing.”

“Men need to be more prepared for being equally involved in family duties,” she said.