Around the turn of the century, if you bumped into a Japanese man in a suit picking through produce at the market, it may have been an early "househusband," a once-frowned-upon role in Japan; the suits these stay-at-home spouses may have donned were meant to make it appear as if they were still punching in. Writing for Topic, Amy Westervelt examines how, shortly after that, this perception of an unemployed man (by choice or circumstance) started to change as the government began nudging more women to have children to make up for falling birth rates. Researchers soon discovered working women in particular weren't turned off to having kids because of their jobs: They found motherhood unappealing because they weren't getting enough help with domestic chores and child care from their husbands. And a government study found a good number of fathers wanted to help but felt held back by a culture that valued males who worked hard in an office, not at home.
Enter the Ikumen Project, an initiative launched in 2008 to cajole workplaces to be more family-friendly and to promote the positive aspects of fatherhood. This included a huge marketing campaign that portrayed stay-at-home husbands and dads as superheroes of sorts for embracing more involved roles. However, some feminists say the concept is mainly symbolic (men are heaped with praise for their "support," but the wives are still doing the bulk of the work), the older generation has been resistant, and it's been hard to get employers totally on board. But observers are seeing signs of a shift. "It used to be that I would ask my students [all women] about these men, and they would all wrinkle their noses and say … 'They're not very masculine,'" an Ochanomizu University researcher says. "But in the last year or two … it's really changed. … About half of them are actually really looking for a vegetable-eating man," the ideal complement to "meat-eating career women." More here. (Read more Longform stories.)