What are “Ikumen”?

by Kaho Nagao

Recently Japanese media such as TV and newspapers often mention the word “ikumen.” Ikumen means men who are taking care their children so much and spend more time than traditional Japanese father. Actually my father was non-Ikumen and we, my father and I, spent only 5 years together because of father’s job and my school life. He lived in the mountains and he came back home only once a month or once a week. I never felt sadness because it was natural for my family, and I could spend good time with my mother and friends. In addition I never envied friends who spent much time with their father. However, after he came back home, we did not know how to communicate with each other. Still it makes our relation little bit complicated. Therefore, when I heard the word Ikumen, I felt very uncomfortable. Are these good fathers real or are they just on the screen? This question is coming up my mind.

On the other hand, one of my professors in Ritsumeikan really helps his wife and is caring for his children. He often mentions about that in small talk before class starts. In addition, Takeshi Tsuruno, who is a TV star, is quite famous as Ikumen. He has four kids and he appears on some child caring programs. Moreover, he took child caring break for three month in 2010. When this news appeared, most people think that Japanese society is changing.

Of course, there are still many traditional Japanese fathers. According to News Post Seven, even though bosses think it is nonsense for men take child care breaks, and for them it seems selfish and spoils their wives. Moreover, they tend to question what man can do to babies.

For old generations, it has been difficult to change our minds toward child caring, but for young generations, it is not too late to change our minds. The reason why younger generations want to take care of their children is they may not get enough money as pension from government and seniority by length of service in company.

Before researching about this topic, I thought Ikumen was just Japanese men starting to have interests to take care of children and changing their minds, however, it is one of the reasons and they also have worry about their future. Needless to say, Japanese society is starting to change and Ikumen is a word, which shows the reality in Japan. Still this word and situation seems to be uncomfortable for some people. However, someday this word is going to be usual and it is really great to everyone who has children can enjoy child-caring.

Reference

News Post http://news.mynavi.jp/news/2013/11/17/037/

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“Ikumen” – The real situation in Japan and comparison to Sweden

A father and his children.

A father and his children. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Aki Yamada

Ikumen” is the expression and slang of the father in Japan who takes care of his children positively instead of the mother, and who enjoys child care. In 2006, one Japanese company started to use Ikumen in order to encourage father’s participation into childcare and stop the decreasing of population of Japan. After that, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare began to project of Ikumen in 2010 trying to make better society for business men to take part in domestic work and encourage childcare. In this essay, I would like to discuss how Ikumen made an impact for Japanese father trough the gap between ideal purpose and real situation in the first part and in the second, I will compare systems and laws between Japan and Sweden, which quite famous for its developed childcare system for father.

Firstly, possibly if you are Japanese, many times you might hear about the word, Ikumen in dramas, books and magazines. Actually, according to the public-opinion poll in 2000, 70 percent of family agreed that father take caring of their child and 10 percent of father strongly desire to do childcare by himself. However, most of their real opinions say that I want to do childcare but “I want to focus on my work” or “women have to take care of child”. Therefore, I think more and more father think that they want to help mother, however, still stereotype of gender role reminds in Japanese soiety.

Second of all, I would like to see the Japanese government’s movements for supporting Ikumen and compare them to Sweden’s processes of how they adopt father to take care of child. In 1992, the Japanese government made the law about Child‐Care Leave Law for men for the first time. And after that, in 2002, they made an agenda for the goal that archive 10 percent increase of childcare leave. Additionally, they also made the law for companies to have the system of enough childcare leave for men.

Those movements made Japanese society easier for father to have childcare leave and take care of child, however, it is not enough because we need more comprehensive support system from both government and companies. At that same time, when we see the system of Sweden, they also spent 30 years to adopt their Ikumen support system from 1974 such as making childcare leave system for 240 days for each gender, giving 80 percent of salary for father when he is taking childcare leave, and providing money for $18 for each day as an allowance. Therefore, I can say that Japan also need more long time to be good society for Ikumen like Sweden did.

“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.