A Japanese cabinet minister has sent shockwaves for announcing plans to take two weeks of paternity leave upon his child’s birth, highlighting the country’s toxic overwork culture.
Shinjiro Koizumi, who serves as Japan’s Environment Minister, said his leave would be spread across the first three months of his child’s life. He outlined his plans in a statement to reporters on Wednesday, which was also posted on his website in Japanese.
The child is due later this month, according to the BBC. He said he chose to take time off within the first three months of childbirth because that is the toughest time for new mothers.
During these three months he would not, however, skip important public affairs like parliamentary sessions and “crisis management,” he said.
Koizumi would also communicate more via email and video conferencing, and ask his deputies to represent him at meetings where necessary and appropriate, he said.
Koizumi in September 2019. He is expecting a baby later this month.
While two weeks is a minuscule amount of time, Koizumi’s announcement is significant, and has even ignited debate within the country.
Though Japan officially allows fathers to take up to 52 weeks of paternity leave — making it the second-most generous country when it comes to paternity leave, after South Korea — a vast majority of fathers forego the leave, creating and continuing a toxic overwork culture in the country.
Just 6% of men in the Japanese workforce take time off for paternity leave, and most of them are for less than a week, Reuters reported, citing government data.
Koizumi is also the first Japanese cabinet minister to take paternity leave. His father, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, did not take any time off when any of his children were born.
A vast majority of men in the Japanese workforce do not take any paternity leave.
‘I hope … we will have a society where a politician’s paternity leave doesn’t make the news’
Koizumi said he decided to take paternity leave to encourage other men to take time off. According to The New York Times, Koizumi is “seen as a possible future prime minister.”
He said, citing government statistics, that 80% of men upon joining the workforce say they’d like to take paternity leave, but only 6.16% go through with it.
“I now understand the reason for this gap,” he said, according to a Reuters translation. “So many other men are facing this same conflict, of wanting to take leave but being unable to do so.”
Men likely fear losing their jobs if they take paternity leave — and have good reason to. Last year a Japanese man sued his employer, the sportswear company Asics, accusing it of harassing and sidelining him after he took one year of paternity leave. Asics denies the allegations.
Koizumi told reporters, according to CNN: “My paternity leave is being reported heavily in the news but I hope that [in the future] we will have a society where a politician’s paternity leave doesn’t make the news.”
Japanese woman in a metro carriage.
Despite taking just two weeks off, Koizumi has courted criticism for taking paternity leave.
Critics have questioned his dedication to his work, The New York Times reported, and Koizumi admitted he “struggled” with his decision.
Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Tokyo’s Sophia University, told The Times: “Someone as privileged as Koizumi still struggled to get this paternity leave. So how hard must it be for other people in other lines of professions?”