Two weeks’ paternity leave may not seem like much, but for Hironobu Narisawa, the 44-year-old mayor of a Tokyo district, it is a leap into the future for Japanese society. Next month he will become Japan’s first local government chief to take time off work to look after a child, a move he hopes will encourage other men to do the same in a nation struggling with a low birthrate.
Japanese law allows either parent to take leave of up to one year after childbirth, but almost all of those who do so are women, a reflection of traditional gender roles that remain entrenched.
Japan has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. The fertility rate, the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime, dropped below the replacement level of 2.07 in the 1970s and hit a low of 1.26 in 2005 before creeping up to 1.37 in 2008.
In a bid to halt the decline, Japan’s new government has embarked on a campaign to make the country a more gender-equal and family-friendly nation. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has promised free high school tuition for all, and his centre-left Democratic Party of Japan has also pledged to boost child allowances, giving 140 dollars a month per child to all parents of pre-high school children and vowing to double that amount next year.
Japan even has a State Minister for Declining Birthrate and Gender Equality, a post occupied by Mizuho Fukushima, the leader of junior coalition partner the Social Democrats.
“Unfortunately 70 percent of women quit their jobs once they have a child. We want them to continue working throughout their active lives,” Fukushima told AFP in an interview last year.
A survey last year found that more than 40 percent of Japanese people do not feel the need to have children after marriage.