National / Media | Japan Pulse

Will Japanese society let fathers help out with child care?

by Kaori Shoji

Contributing Writer

Women in Japan have long been expected to handle the bulk of child care duties, whether it be feeding and bathing a child or dropping them off at day care in the morning and picking them up from the center later the same day.

In more recent times, men in Japan have tried to right the ship and pitch in where they can in a bid to take some of the burden off their partners.

For the most part, this is great. Occasionally, however, their actions can be misconstrued by others in society who aren’t aware of a family’s dynamics. This can lead to some pretty bizarre situations.

In August, musician and manga artist Mikito Tsurugi was traveling with his 2-year-old daughter on the Hokuriku Shinkansen.

His daughter started to cry, so Tsurugi took her into the vacant space between the carriages to try and calm her down.

Several passengers who witnessed the incident reportedly called the police and claimed Tsurugi was trying to kidnap the child. The befuddled father was then questioned by officers who boarded the bullet train at the next station.

After producing identification and calling his wife to confirm that he was indeed the father, Tsurugi was able to take his daughter home.

Tsurugi later recounted the incident on Twitter in a post (later taken down) that drew an avalanche of comments from fathers who expressed their own frustration at taking care of their children in public spaces.

“When I go outside with my child, I try and wear identical clothing,” one person wrote in response to Tsurugi’s tweet, implying that fathers who don’t look related to their children draw suspicion.

However, Tsurugi’s case isn’t the first of its kind, and fathers nationwide have been trying to correct misunderstandings for some time.

They came out firing last year, after Lower House lawmaker Koichi Hagiuda claimed that “babies are sure to prefer their mothers,” arguing that such a statement was discriminatory.

A number of people on social media also argued that Hagiuda’s remark actually put pressure on women to act as primary caregivers, which, in turn, placed on a lot of unwanted stress on moms.

Koichiro Nakajima, whose own wife is a politician, told Buzzfeed that the remark “negated fathers without even bothering to acknowledge their role in raising children.”

Others have argued that some women deliberately choose to keep their partners from being involved in child care, thereby accentuating gender problems in the home.

“There are cases where fathers have been reported to the police because they were seen playing with their kids,” @irukakaban wrote in a thread on the issue on Togetter.com. “Or they have been banned from participating in kindergarten parents’ meetings. There’s also a lot of mistrust directed toward male staff in day care facilities. Men are being alienated.”

Another wrote that “women claim men simply won’t help with child care, while men argue that they’re not even allowed to participate.”

On a more positive note, many dads are starting to take the gender equality bull by the horns. For instance, an online petition has been started by fathers who want tables for changing diapers to be installed in men’s bathrooms, especially in venues such as train stations, electronics stores and fast-food restaurants.

On Oct. 18, Tsurugi and his wife, Kamiko Inuyama (an essayist who has written about issues pertaining to the family and abuse), sat down with Asahi.com for a formal interview. 

“I think that we are living in a heavily conflicted and stressed society,” Tsurugi told Asahi.com. “It’s still hard for many people to view men as fathers who take care of their children, especially in public spaces such as a bullet train.”

He also said that several Twitter users had accused him of being “inexperienced in handling his daughter,” which triggered the police alert.

However, Tsurugi made it clear that he was a caring dad, saying he took three months off to be with his family after his wife gave birth.

Meanwhile, Inuyama said that she hopes this unfortunate incident doesn’t discourage people from calling the police about potential crimes against children.

“I do understand the pressures men face when they’re alone with their kids,” she said. “If we lived in a society where everyone was OK with men and women being equally responsible for child care, this incident might not have even happened.”

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