Japan’s postwar reconstruction and economic growth were supported by the division of household labor where men work and women look after children. This model is no longer sustainable, as evidenced by the rapidly declining birthrate and aging population. The modern household needs both parents involved in parenting to enable both parents to work.
Paternity leave is designed to support joint parenting, but government data indicate that only 6.16 percent of fathers took paternity leave in 2018. On paper, Japanese paternity policies are generous, but in reality, cultural expectations make it very difficult for fathers to exercise paternity rights.
Patahara — short for “paternity harassment” — has recently come under the spotlight as an employer at Asics Corp. filed a lawsuit alleging that he was punished for taking paternity leave and was given only meaningless tasks upon his return. It is widely believed that many men have had similar experiences, and some avoid taking leave in fear of punishment. These reports of patahara reflect how the old Japanese social norms are difficult to break as companies expect male workers to prioritize work over parenting.
The government is taking on a more active role in changing the mindset of the people. The government recently increased government subsidies to companies that allow employees to take paternity leave. The government should continue to implement policies to support this, including considering mandating that companies require paternity leave and providing tax benefits to those employees who do in fact take leave. Moreover, Japanese politicians can become role models themselves by taking paternity leave.
Paternity policies must be a feasible option rather than a simple idea that truly benefits Japanese parents and society. Citizens need to recognize that they are married to their spouses and not to their employers.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.