Young Japanese Politician Sets Out to Bust a Taboo

Cabinet minister Shinjiro Koizumi is taking paternity leave, a rare thing in his country
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2020 11:34 AM CST
In This Case, Paternity Leave Is Big News
Japanese lawmaker Kensuke Miyazaki of the Liberal Democratic Party, in a file photo.   (Junko Ozaki/Kyodo News via AP)

A politician announcing that he's taking paternity leave typically doesn't make international headlines. But the circumstances of this one are indeed unusual: The politician is Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, 38, and the reason it's making news is because so few men take paternity leave in Japan. In fact, Koizumi is the first Cabinet minister in Japan to do so, and the third youngest Cabinet minister in Japan's history says he hopes to help shift public thinking about the idea. Coverage:

  • His leave: Koizumi's first child is due later this month, and he said Wednesday that he intends to take a total of two weeks off, reports the Guardian. Even so, he said he would make exceptions for "important public duties" and would spread the time over three months.
  • The irony: Japan has one of the world's most generous paternity leave policies, allowing fathers to take up to a year off. However, few actually take advantage—an estimated 6%, reports Bloomberg. The very idea of such leave is considered taboo: In Japan, such criticism is referred to as "pata-hara," or paternity harassment, per NPR.

  • A start: "It's a good precedent, and it's about time that this kind of thing becomes more normal," Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo, tells the New York Times. He noted, however, that even Koizumi—son of a popular prime minister who has been seen as a future prime minister himself—has taken a lot of flak over his decision. "Someone as privileged as Koizumi still struggled to get this paternity leave," he says. "So how hard must it be for other people in other lines of professions? But it has to start somewhere."
  • Demographics: Japan's birthrate has fallen to modern lows, and the government last month announced a push to increase the rate of men taking leave from 6% to 30% by 2025, reports Japan News. "If fathers take leave and help their wives with babies, maybe wives will have more support at home and they might decide to go for No. 2 or No. 3," Yumiko Murakami of the Tokyo Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tells the Times. "So let's hope this is a good sign that things are starting to change in Japan, slowly but surely."
  • Another front: Last year, a man in Japan sued his employer in what CNN calls a landmark case over paternity leave. The man alleges he was demoted by sportswear maker Asics because he took leave. Asics denies any wrongdoing. The story takes note of similar disputes springing up in the Japanese workplace.
  • Final word: "I hope there will be a day when lawmakers' paternity leave is no longer news," says Koizumi.
(This Japanese lawmaker was also criticized for taking paternity leave.)

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