TOKYO — Japan’s popular environment minister said Wednesday that he will take paternity leave when he expects his first child later this month, seeking to be a good example for working fathers in Japan, where men are largely absent from child raring.
With Japan facing an aging population and dwindling birthrate, the government recently started promoting paternity leave. Last month, it adopted a policy allowing male public servants to take paternity leave of more than a month.
Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said he would take just two weeks of paternity leave over three months on the condition it won’t affect his parliamentary and Cabinet duties.
He said it was a difficult decision, but that he is going ahead with the plan to pave the way for other male employees in his ministry and working fathers elsewhere.
“Honestly, I had to think over and over how I should take time off for child raring, or take paternity leave, while fulfilling my public duty as an environment minister,” Koizumi told a group of ministry officials and reporters. “Unless we change the atmosphere, government employees presumably won’t start taking paternity leave.”
Japan has relatively generous parental leave policies, allowing men and women partially paid leave of up to 12 months. But changes are coming slowly and few fathers of newborns take time off due to intense pressure to focus on work.
Many working fathers fear taking paternity leave will damage their career, and those hoping to take leave often face warnings from their bosses or colleagues.
Koizumi said he hopes he can inspire further debate over how everyone can balance work and family duties, including child and elderly care, in a sustainable way.
He expressed his intention last year of taking paternity leave when he announced his marriage to former newscaster Christel Takigawa. But he has since faced divided public opinion, including criticism that he should be prioritizing his public duties as a government minister.
While local governors in Hiroshima and Mie in western Japan have taken paternity leave, Koizumi made headlines Wednesday as the first minister to do so.
“I hope there will be a day when lawmakers’ paternity leave is no longer news,” he said.
Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press