Newly appointed Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi's remark that he may consider taking paternity leave to help raise his first child, who will be born early next year, has sparked a heated public debate. While some hope he can serve as an example that will encourage other men to follow suit, others say he won't be able to fulfill his responsibility as a Cabinet minister if he does so. No matter how mixed public reactions are, it's a great opportunity for Japan to think about this issue seriously.

While 82.2 percent of working mothers in Japan take child care leave, a mere 6.16 percent of working husbands follow suit, according to a fiscal 2018 survey by the welfare ministry. The government aims to raise the percentage of men who take child care leave to 13 percent by 2020 but remains far short of this goal.

When it comes to Diet members, the situation is even tougher. There are regulations allowing maternity leave in both the Lower and Upper houses, but there is no rule enabling male lawmakers to take paternity leave. This means the popular 38-year-old minister has to overcome two hurdles. One is to persuade many conservative men who think it is primarily the job of women to care for babies, and the other is to enable him to take paternity leave even though there is no such system in the Diet.