“Recognizing” and “Understanding” Ikumen

by Chihiro Kobayashi

My mother and father both work as middle school teachers. Even though they engage in the same job, their life styles are very different. My mother’s day starts from cooking a breakfast for the family and making a lunch box for me. One hour later, my father wakes up and starts eating it as if it were air. As soon as my family finishes eating them, my mother washes the dishes and then starts hanging out the cloths to dry. After she finishes her paid work, she comes back to home earlier than my father to cook dinner for us.

Even though my mother works as same paid job as my father, she engages in much more unpaid housework than father. Since my grandmother has very strict and traditional idea toward gender role, my father is not allowed to enter the kitchen to help cooking and washing. My mother often told me that housework should not be the role of only women.

Recently, more and more Japanese women work outside to make money since only husband’s salary is not enough to support their family. Also, Japanese society itself wants to increase the working women because aging society will leads the less working generation. Even though the number of full-time housewife is decreasing and working women is increasing, the idea that housework is a role of women is still remained. As a result, women are struggling with the double burden of paid labor work and unpaid housework.

Since 2010, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has started Ikumen project (育メンプロジェクト) which has established for the purpose of increasing the social momentum of male participation in child care.

Thanks to this project and other effects by mass media, the “recognition” of child caring father has widespread certainly. For example, the cooking book targeting men, Ryori Danshi (料理男子), is very popular and the number of cooking shows by men is increasing. Also, the drama and books talking about Ikumen is popular among women.

However, when I see around myself, there is not so many or no Ikumen yet. I wonder whether Ikumen really exist or are they just a fantasy made by mass media and government. I guess even though the “recognition” of Ikumen has widespread, the “understanding” toward Ikumen is not spread yet and that is why there is not so many or no Ikumen.

For example, I read an article about Ikumen and it described how Ikumen are seen from the Japanese society. When one guy brought his child to the hospital, the doctor asked him “Where is your wife?” Also, when he brought his child to the park, other mothers were talking that his wife depends on her husband, does not take care children and does not play a role as a housewife. Most of the Japanese people know and “recognize” the word Ikumen, but they, even women, still have traditional idea of gender role, and “understanding” of the Ikumen has not spread yet.

Though I do think Ikumen will play an important role in the Japanese future, I do not want to pressure and force every father to be an Ikumen. There is no correct one answer of the way father care their child. Some fathers prioritize their career up and get a better position, while others want to balance their work and housework. I can say the same thing to the women.

I think how parents share their work and housework should be depended on their choice, environment and values. Therefore, I think it is important to make a society which both women and men can share and choose their work and housework flexibly. To attain that society, I think one of the important first steps is to spread the “understanding” of Ikumen among Japanese society. If society flexibly accepts both shufu (主婦) and shufu (主夫), and people recognize and understand both of them, I believe Japanese traditional gender role will be changed.

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5 thoughts on ““Recognizing” and “Understanding” Ikumen

  1. Pingback: “Ikumen” – The real situation in Japan and comparison to Sweden | JAPANsociology

  2. Pingback: What are “Ikumen”? | JAPANsociology

  3. This is a great introduction to Ikumen, and I think your parents are a really good example of how society views the division of labor in Japan. Also, thank you for including the discussion of people’s reactions to ikumen and stay-at-home dads. In addition to governmental reform, we will also have to educate businesses and “regular people” to remove the stigma.

    By the way, could you link to the article you read about reactions to ikumen in paragraph 7? It sounds very interesting.

  4. I bet, goverment is doing it beacuse the low natality, that is caused women only want to marry rich men. It is like a men invasion of the womens world that will end devalue women, so force them to enter to the workforce or force them to admit a man with less income.

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