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I, Iku-man

July 7th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized

From Matt G. comes a link to good news for fathers in Japan.

First, the problem, as reported by Monocle:

Japan, birthplace of the workaholic salaryman, has long held the dubious distinction of being one of the most overworked nations in the developed world. And nowhere is this better reflected than in the context of Japanese fathers. Fewer than 1 per cent of new dads take the full leave to which they are legally entitled – often because it is professionally frowned upon, adds pressure on their colleagues and lowers chances of promotion.

So it should come as little surprise that further studies show Japanese fathers spend the least time on childcare and housework compared with their counterparts in other industrialised nations.

The solution: a switch to the same model I saw used in Germany, where the overall allowed parental leave time increases if both spouses use some of it each. Also, new Japanese dads can take some time of even if their wives aren’t working. That’s a big switch, because it signals that paternal leave is not just a functional necessity (a solution to the nuts-and-bolts problem of who will stay with baby), but also an emotional and developmental necessity (baby needs to get to know its father). Like many trends in Japan, it has inspired a hybrid nickname: iku-men, from the word iku-ji (childrearing).

It seems like such a simple thing, doesn’t it? Japan has been worried about its low birth rate for such a long time, but hasn’t even taken these modest steps before now. Same here in the States–there is so much hand-wringing and blather about the future of our children, the state of the family. But little action to actually make it, you know, easier to parent well. Affordable child care, universal pre-k, health insurance for all (with the attendant good access to prenatal and postnatal care).

It’s always enjoyable to poke fun at the batshit workaholic Japanese, but there are some near-impossible things about trying to have and raise a child in this country. Always good to look in the mirror as well.

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