I am ikuman!
July 9, 2018 1:24 PM   Subscribe

"A third of [Japanese working fathers] wanted to spend more time with their kids and wanted to take paternity leave, but felt that it would be frowned upon by their bosses: for the older generation, spending time with children was just not something men did...

"In 2008, the Japanese government began piloting the Ikumen Project (NYT), aimed at drafting policies that would make workplaces more father-friendly and funding various cultural projects that would encourage dads throughout Japan to get more involved with their children. (The word ikumen is an amalgam of the Japanese ikuji, “child-rearing,” and the English “men.”) Signs began to appear in subways and on crowded streets: an American-inspired, movie-poster-style billboard of an actor dressed in a Superman costume, standing proudly with the word “Ikumen” emblazoned on his chest. Men could be seen actually engaging in fatherhood on TV and in films and magazines, too"

"Feminist scholars have taken issue with the language, ads, and media around ikumen, which tend to portray involved dads as heroic and situate fatherhood as something patriotic in the same way that the government encouraged men to work hard for the good of the nation as it struggled after World War II...'Most notable here is the likening of ikumen to superheroes—hypermasculine icons who serve the nation through protecting the weak (children and mothers); and frame their roles more in terms of ‘support’, ‘consideration’ and ‘understanding’ for their wives—a sympathetic, but somewhat passive fathering model, leaving the gendered division of labor largely intact.' "

"While this idea that women take care of children and homes while men run companies has dominated modern history in Japan, there have been noticeable shifts in the past decade. “Every year I see more and more fathers taking care of their children. On the street or in a TV drama or in the media. You can see men doing fatherhood more and more all the time, so that is very encouraging. Those are the men in their 30s. Men and women in their 30s have a totally different mind-set than people in their 50s. They are different people. So we have high hopes for the younger generation.”
posted by devrim (9 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
A nation of suit-wearing salarymen educates its first generation of stay-at-home dads.

What about the husbands and fathers who work in primary industries, construction, manufacturing, logistics...

The topic.com article views the new labor laws as a good thing, where overtime is supposedly capped at 720 hours a year. However, the laws, which were just passed last month, put the monthly cap at 100 hours -- more than 25 hours of overtime every week. Even worse, highly-skilled labour is exempt from any caps on overtime labour.

The approach to overtime -- for white collar workers, that is -- is one problem with encouraging Japanese men to spend more time at home.

Another problem is that wages for women in Japan are quite low. There are very, very few "meat-eating women" -- professional women who earn more than their spouses -- in Japan. Typically women earn at best half the salry of male workers. A typical monthly salary for a female office worker is about $1,200. There are going to be women who earn more, notably teachers, but they are a small part of the workforce.

So, since husbands earn more, and are required to work overtime, there is little incentive to spend more time with family. On top of that, dual-income families are taxed more -- something else not mentioned in the article. If the wife, as a dependent of the household, gets a job, above a certain threshold her earnings will be taxed.

So there are some structural impediments to getting men to stay home.

There's also culture. I'm not sure what it's like nowadays, but for Japanese Gen Xers (my generation) it was still totally normal for a woman to quit formal work to focus on family and managing a household (which is considered "work" in Japan).

If I had legislative power I would limit overtime and abolish gender discrimination when it comes to wages.
posted by JamesBay at 2:05 PM on July 9, 2018 [14 favorites]

It seems, anecdotally, like it’s becoming less the norm now for women to leave the workforce indefinitely upon having kids. This may just be that whole “stagnating wages” phenomenon that America is so familiar with.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:57 PM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Japan is still doing something fundamentally wrong because in 2017 the child birth rate was at its lowest since records began in 1899. The root causes are difficult to address because they intertwine shitty gender roles, unfair labor markets and other complex systems. Having a very conservative government with a right-wing nationalist Prime Minister doesn't help, either.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:35 PM on July 9, 2018

Just to give an inkling of how serious the Japanese government is about making it easier to raise a family in Japan, in late 2017 the prime minister appointed a 59 year old man, Masuji Matsuyama, to be the minister of state for Measures Against Low Birth Numbers, Male and Female Equal Participation in Society, Science and Technology Policy, Space Policy, Intellectual Property Strategy, and “Cool Japan” Strategy; as well as Minister for the 100-million Citizen Activation (my bad translation), and Minister for IT Policy...

So like, the label ikumen is cute and it’s really nice that attitude are changing; but claims that government is helping feel, hallucinatory :)
posted by AxelT at 4:37 PM on July 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

[Couple deleted; let's not drive the thread off into generalizations about low/high population growth everywhere on earth and so on. This is a specific link about a specific thing, we can discuss that.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:53 PM on July 9, 2018

It's been a long time since I've been in Japan. I was there in the 80s as a jazz musician, a gaijin curiosity to the salary-men (saramīman) whom we entertained.

The Japanese culture has obviously been less female-friendly than some other First World countries. (I remember how odd it was in a Japanese home being served first, the wife to eat later, on her own. Also: the pineapple or raisin-studded butter patties as beer snacks. Much weirder than dried shrimp.)

But those of us of a certain age in the USA (meaning us olders, especially--and this must be true in many places) almost universally remember a somewhat distant Dad. The increasing acceptance of a father as a nurturing figure is surely a bright moment in our increasingly Dire Times.
posted by kozad at 9:06 PM on July 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'll confess I haven't noticed these posters or advertising during my daily commute around Tokyo and I don't watch a lot of local TV so I've missed a fair amount of this. The articles were interesting in some ways. Yes, of course there is too much focus on celebs or sort of the heroic novelty, but that is one way you get people's attention.

Two day care businesses opened on my block recently (child not elder care--day care for the elderly is big in my neighborhood). Anecdata: I see a fair number of dads picking up kids. Not a lot, but a noticeable number especially since it would have been zero not all that long ago.

The Topics article would be improved by more examples who are not returnees or Japanese men married to western women (a vanishingly small demographic). Both those categories are real outliers. But, if that's who the journalist (feed is interesting) had access to, it is one window. And, outliers are often where the changes may start.

Tax policy did used to mean that there was almost no incentive for a second earner in the family, who is almost always the wife, to earn more than ¥1.03 million yen (about $10,000 per year). This put pressure and/or created a system in which the incentive was to work low-hour, low-wage part-time jobs. It wasn't taxed and hubby still got a big dependents deduction. I worked with several women who returned to full-time work soon after maternity leave to see basically their entire earnings chewed up by taxes and day care but if they wanted to keep a meaningful career track they did it.

In my own workplace (academia so not "The Real World") we started the policy a couple years ago that parents with young kids leave by 5pm. Rather than being forced to take up the slack, what that means for me is that there is a strong incentive to wrap up meetings by 5. We're also atypical in that our faculty is exactly split 50/50 male-female. This is extremely rare and certainly did not happen by chance. One of our younger male professors just added a baby daughter to the family and I fully expect he will take advantage of the out by 5 rule. It's good for everyone. We've had two professional staff go on maternity leave recently and boy are we happy when then come back. There are no repercussions.

But, it is very uneven. Just a few years ago at a different university one male professor stretched out parental leave for three years. People were happy he wasn't around so they let him do it. A new, younger female assistant prof literally had to kowtow (she bowed repeatedly to the point that her forehead was almost on the table) to the faculty and apologize for taking leave. I'll confess I didn't speak up then. Nobody did. It was a toxic work environment all around.

I think the jury is still out but some of my students, especially the female students, seem to harbor hopes that Abenomics will help them.
posted by Gotanda at 9:20 PM on July 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

I must grant that my "does this writer know what they're talking about?" defenses were raised when they failed to note that "ikemen" is a play on the quite common "ikemen," referring to a cool/stylish man
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:05 PM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes, Doc, I wondered the same thing. Just copy and paste イケメン and image search to get an idea of "Ikemen."
posted by Gotanda at 11:43 PM on July 11, 2018

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