Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi criticizes Japan’s labor standards with the decision to take paternity leave

Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi criticizes Japan's labor standards with the decision to take paternity leave

Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said on Wednesday that he would take two weeks of paternity leave after the birth of his first child. This could affect the attitudes of working fathers in a country where few men take time off to care for newborns.

“I intend to take a total of two weeks of paternity leave in the three months after birth, with the mother bearing the greatest burden, provided I prioritize my official duties and thorough crisis management, as I have done,” Koizumi told reporters. Koizumi noted that he would not skip “important public activities” such as the state and cabinet meetings.

To enable flexibility, Koizumi said that he would increasingly use digital methods such as email and video conferencing. If necessary, he could ask a deputy minister or other official to work for him. Digitization has only slowly entered the government.

According to Yoshie Komuro, president of the consultancy Work Life Balance Co., Koizumi’s decision will “change the widespread view that those responsible cannot take parental leave.”

“I really appreciate that he is willing to change the way he works, rather than maintaining the same work habits,” said Komuro.

Under Japanese law, men and women can be released from work for up to a year after the birth of a child. Very few men take advantage of the discount.

Ministry of Health data from fiscal year 2018 shows that only 6.16 percent of working fathers applied for or took childcare leave, compared to 82.2 percent of working mothers who did. Of those who took paternity leave, 36.3 percent – the majority – took less than five days of paternity leave. The corresponding number for women on vacation was 10 to 12 months or less.

However, young male workers appear to be interested in changing the trend. According to a 2017 survey by the Japan Productivity Center, 79.5 percent of new hires said that they want to take parental leave when their child is born.

According to the Cabinet Secretariat, 12.4 percent of male civil servants took paternity leave in the 2018 financial year, just missing the government target of 13 percent by 2020.

According to Komuro, the most common cause of maternal death shortly after delivery is suicide associated with postpartum depression. Symptoms are usually greatest two weeks to a month after birth due to a hormonal imbalance.

The father’s support during this period was important to improve the quality of life of a mother in need of protection, including the duration and quality of sleep.

“It is reasonable for (Koizumi) to say that he will take two weeks off soon after birth,” she said.

Koizumi, 38, is married to television news broadcaster Christel Takigawa, 42, who is expecting her first child this month.

Many have been waiting for Koizumi, the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and often himself seen as a potential future Prime Minister, to actually take paternity leave since he launched the idea last year.

His plan has triggered positive and negative reactions in political circles and on the Internet.

Some say this would set a positive precedent. A tweet on Wednesday welcomed the move as a “good decision”.

“I hope this will make it easier for more people to take parental leave,” the tweet said.

But opposition lawmaker Kenta Izumi from the Democratic Party for the People has not seen such steps positively.

“I want Koizumi to tell the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party and Keidanren that he will not take paternity leave unless all workers receive 100 percent of their paternity leave payments,” said Izumi during a press conference in September. Kendanren is Japan’s most powerful large business lobby group.

Among the male politicians, Hiroshima governor Hidehiko Yuzaki and Mie governor Eikei Suzuki took parental leave.

Ryusei Takahashi has contributed to this report.