Japan wants more men to take childcare leave

The percentage of men in Japan taking childcare leave remains low. The government aims to change that by boosting the allowance for childcare leave. But workplace attitudes must also change.

A survey by the labor and welfare ministry has found that only about 17 percent of eligible men took childcare leave in fiscal 2022. The government aims to raise the rate to 50 percent by 2025.

Childcare leave allowances now amount to about 80 percent of workers' take-home income. The labor and welfare ministry on Monday presented a panel with a draft plan that raises the allowance to 100 percent as long as both parents take childcare leave for at least 14 days. The new ratio would apply for up to 28 days.

The plan attracted a variety of responses. A woman who is on childcare leave for a year says the new plan would be very helpful.

A man in his 30s says he welcomes the plan as it would encourage more fathers to take childcare leave. He considers the additional compensation essential for raising children.

Another man in his 20s says many of the new fathers he knows get only one to two weeks off for childcare leave. He thinks that's too short so he favors the plan.

Workplace encouragement is key

The top reason men give for not taking a longer leave is to avoid a drop in income. The second reason is a discouraging atmosphere at work.

A woman in her 20s says she doesn't think her husband will take childcare leave. He told her that no men at his workplace have ever taken childcare leave and the practice is viewed negatively.

A man in his 30s who took about a month off says his workplace was encouraging. He says his colleagues' cooperation was essential.

Another man in his 60s says work has to go on and if men take time off their colleagues will have to pick up the slack. He notes this will cause inconvenience.

Is childcare leave long enough?

Childcare leave in principle is allowed until the child's first birthday. Under certain conditions, such as a lack of available childcare, leave can be extended until the child turns two.

In addition to increasing the allowance for childcare leave, the ministry's plan includes single parents and freelance workers not covered by unemployment insurance.

The question is whether the new plan will succeed in getting more men to take childcare leave.

What companies must do

Hibino Shunsuke has been working for 15 years at Co-sol, a tech firm in Tokyo with about 150 employees. He took childcare leave when his two children were born. He says caring for them was tough, but he was happy he could help his wife.

Hibino Shunsuke, a section chief at Co-sol, supports childcare leave for men.

Hibino says jobs provide people with the means to lead decent lives. He believes sufficient allowances are key to convincing more men to take childcare leave.

Co-sol is actively urging its employees to take childcare leave, and even conducts interviews with new fathers to encourage them to do so. Such efforts have led to 60 percent of its male workers taking parental leave — up from zero in 2014. Even so, many of them take shorter periods of leave because they worry about being away from work.

Moreover, only one male employee has taken advantage of the ability to work shorter hours after returning from childcare leave, while 12 female employees have done so.

Matsunami Satoko is Co-sol's director of administration.

Administration Manager Matsunami Satoko says Co-sol also wants to support the employees who have to take on the work of their colleagues on childcare leave, and will consider how to compensate them.

Creating a child-friendly work environment

Experts say companies are being asked to create an environment that makes it easier to raise children after childcare leave ends by creating more flexible working hours and allowing remote work.

Sato Hiroki, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, says it would be problematic if men who take childcare leave stop being involved in childrearing once they return to work. He says workplace culture is critical to preventing this outcome.