by Dina Akylbekova
For many years Japan was famous for the social phenomenon of workaholics but last few years the new concept of “ikumen” has gotten attention from both domestic and foreign press.
What does this “mysterious” concept of ikumen mean? The word “ikumen” is a word combination of the Japanese “ikuji” (child care) and the English “men” (Koh, 2010). Ikumen is officially defined as a “men who enjoy parenting and grow through parenting or those who wish to do so in the future” or just basically a stay-at-home dad (MHLW, 2012).
It is interesting that there is media interest in such a thing as a stay-at-home dad. The stay-at-home dad is nonsense for Japanese society with the strong traditional family model, in which men are workaholic “breadwinners” and women are caring mothers and good wives. The average Japanese man, who follows canons of traditional family model spends only 30 minutes per day for care work, including child care (MHLW, 2011). The rate of fathers’ care leave of 2.63% (among all working men with children) also shows the low level of fathers’ engagement into child bearing process (MHLW, 2011).
However, a recent survey revealed that more than a half of Japanese men want to spend more time with their children (Benesse, 2011). There are many factors hindering male family engagement, the most concerning ones are overwork and social pressure. Japanese workers, who prioritize the family over work and neglect overwork “tradition”, can be considered as irresponsible, incompetent and selfish workers. Moreover, many employers consider fathers’ parental leave as the end of the professional career’s end. Japanese men, who are willing to be engaged more into family issues, face many social and professional challenges.
Fortunately, the Japanese government has started a large-scale policy towards the improvement of gender equality, which includes the promotion of father’s family engagement. The policy includes a social campaign “Ikumen Project”. The campaign consists of seminars, events promoting father’s participation in child bearing, moreover supporting websites are created.
Additionally, there is an on-going media campaign, which includes the production of dramas and TV-shows about ikumen, for instance, a popular movie “Usagi drop”. Moreover, some politicians joined the promotion by taking parental leave: the governor of Hiroshima Hidehiko Yuzaki and the mayor of the central Bunkyo ward Hironobu Narisawa (Koh, 2010).
Maybe, the social campaigns and famous people’ role models will make the society to accept father’s childcare leave and promote new values to the young generations. Finally, Japanese society has to face many challenges before reaching gender equality and forming new family model. The emerging “ikumen” phenomenon supported by the government is giving a hope for more positive changes in Japanese families and society.
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan http://www.mhlw.go.jp
Koh Y., 2010. “Japan’s Next Big Thing: Stay-at-Home Dads?”, Japan Times.
Benesse Institute for Child Sciences and Parenting “Wishing to be ikumen: The Ideal and Reality of Young Japanese Fathers”
- The Ikumen boom in Japan. What can be done? (xinchanchan.wordpress.com)
- A Man’s Right to Stay Home (afternoonjournal.wordpress.com)
- Care Crisis at the Core of Gender Non-Equality (japansociology.com)
- How to Manage Being a Stay at Home Dad (lifestylekenyamagazine.wordpress.com)
- Immigration for children in Japan (japansociology.com)
- Fathers beginning to ask for equal time off as new parents (post-gazette.com)
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