In recent weeks, you may have noticed fathers standing with their children in your neighborhood inspecting the trees that sit beside the road with various nets in tow.

It’s more than likely they’re hunting for insects to bolster their children’s school projects over the summer vacation, which are mandatory for pupils nationwide though the third year of junior high school.

Homework over the summer vacation is one of the things that is believed to define Japanese childhood, during which students are encouraged to study subjects ranging from botany and astronomy to analyzing mold and bacteria.

This year, however, summer is a very different experience for children compared to what they’ve been through before. Many of the country’s public schools have limited their summer vacations to no more than 22 days in an effort to make up for time that was lost during the nationwide closures back in April and May.

However, students have still been asked to complete summer projects over the school break and, fortunately for some of them, their fathers are presently a lot closer to home than usual.

With more fathers working from home at least part of the week, they have more time to spend outside with their children hunting for insects. In between myriad conference calls and Zoom meetings, some of Japan’s fathers are with their children looking for cicadas, grasshoppers, praying mantises and the highly prized stag beetle.

Indeed, Twitter abounds with tips on catching cicadas as they come out of hibernation and preserving their cocoons.

At least one father proudly declared that he had caught the coveted stag beetle for his son’s project — a feat that deserves all the praise he received.

But if entomology is not your forte, sites such as NGK have a slew of science project suggestions for your children to participate in over the summer vacation, including collecting soil samples, observing microbes or assembling a device that allows you to communicate to your friends while maintaining social distancing.

Meanwhile, online website iko-yo.net gathers information on recommended places that parents can take their children for the day, with safety and social distancing guidelines included.

Aside from summer schoolwork, a number of families have expressed an interest in spending some downtime together. The big question: Is it safe? Pediatrician Teruyoshi Kurokawa appeared in an interview on the website rurubu.jp, and said there’s nothing wrong with families traveling, provided they take precautionary measures and focus on staying outdoors.

“The long, stay-home period took a toll on parents and children alike,” Kurokawa warns. “Traveling could be a way to alleviate stress, but if anyone in the family is feeling a bit off beforehand, don’t be afraid to cancel your plans and keep your schedule flexible.”

Japanese mothers have long been at the center of their children’s development, but the uncertainty surrounding summer vacation this year could allow their partners to shine.

A blogger who goes by the name of Rika wrote that she appreciated how her husband always employed techniques that are fun and innovative when spending time with their 5-year-old son.

“I tend to tell my son off in order to get him to do things like take a bath, but my husband knows how to turn everything into a game that my son really enjoys,” Rika writes.

Now, as many families continue to spend an unprecedented amount of time together, parents are coming to the conclusion that some aspects of child care are best left to dads.

The website otonto.jp is a platform for Japanese fathers looking for ways to spend quality time with their children. On the site, fathers are posting ideas for projects they can assist in with their children, planning meals in order to help their wives and adding advice for coping with child care issues under the pandemic. The site’s slogan reminds fathers around the world that “there isn’t a whole lot of time in a father’s life to really play and be with your kids.”

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