Balancing work and family for a fulfilling life

Editor’s note: Students have been reading Anne Allison‘s Precarious Japan and are commenting how recent economic and social challenges in Japan are impacting their plans for their futures.

by Naho Onishi

My life plan is this: after graduation, I want to get a job that is related to traveling. I will work 2, 3 years and save money. Then I desire to get married by the time I am thirty and have a child. I will keep working after taking care of my baby.

In this plan, I worry about working when I have a child. Now, women are encouraged to take childcare leave. However, in fact, when they come back to the work place, they feel “ibashoganai“. They are often assigned to other work place and section after childcare leave. Moreover, they are not entrusted with important jobs. Even if they can return their work place, their child is very young. So, child care is very hard. If their child catch a disease, mother must absent from work, and care for child. They feel difficult to manage her work and family life.

Recently, I heard the word “paternity leave.” For mothers, the father’s help is very happy, and they can take care of their baby together. However, fathers worry about after child care leave too. Especially men, they work a lot more time than women. They think that “if I can not return to my work place, what can I do?” While they can receive child care leave, their payment is lower then their regular wage. And they think that “if I can not go to work, my co-workers will feel trouble because they must cover my work.” They are concerned about family finances and situation after they take child care leave, and they can not take leave willingly. So, the rate of men who take paternity leave is very low. If they feel “ibasho” after child care leave, this rate may become higher.

I want to feel “ibasho” in my office in the future. The time that I spend in jobs may be the longest in my life. It is about three times as long as school days. Of course, my home is my most important “ibasho“. But, work place is different from home in terms of roles. Work has responsibility as a member of society. It is important to feel this job is worth doing. And co-worker give us a good incentive to work harder. It is same with studying too. I think both family life and work are the key to a fulfilling life.

Both the company and the public should create more comfortable society and “ibasho“. Mutual cooperation is the key to stable and peace society.

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“Ikumen”: challenges and support of new generation of Japanese fathers

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.

References

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