Source: Paid Parental Leave vs. The World (Infographic), Feb 4, 2013, Huffington Post

What does the word “ikumen” mean?

The word “Iku-men” is a play on the Japanese word for child-rearing, “iku-ji

Stay-at-home fathers in Japan.
(Iku-ji [child-rearing] + Men.)

It initially referred to a relatively new and minority group of prominent stay-home dads who put their career on hold to look after their children, but has now taken a broader meaning to include fathers who are actively engaged or involved in rearing their children.

“A recently coined term that refers to men who actively participate in raising their children, it is a play on words taken from ikuji, Japanese for “child-raising” and “men.” This is partly due to the growing attention given to fathers’ involvement in child-raising and housework while Japanese society has been coping with the trend toward fewer children and increasing dual-income households.” — Wishing to be Ikumen, Benesse

The ikumen parenting phenomenon is gathering momentum…with more and more fathers have been reported taking an active role in childcare. The numbers of fathers taking time off work to take care of their children or all of their allowable leave, while on the increase, remain relatively low, apparently out of job security reasons in the difficult economic climate, or due to the fact that the paternity leave benefit is less generous relative to other countries (see pie chart above) elsewhere given that 98 days’ leave with only 60% pay is allowed (you need more money not less when raising and feeding an extra mouth).

In 2010, the BBC reported that just one in a hundred Japanese fathers take paternity leave, despite laws that allow either parent to take up to one year off.  However, a comparative paper by researchers (Hideki Nakazato and Junko Nishimura (Apr 2012) showed that 55.6 per cent, of male workers at workplaces that provided paternity leave and whose partners gave birth from 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2008 took leave. This current picture, if true, is not too disimilar from UK’s, see The politics of paternity leave (BBC) where 45% of new fathers said they did not take paternity leave; Of those, 88% said they would have liked to have done so, and 49% said they could not afford it. However, Japan — hard times for working mothers reported that only 2.63% of Japanese men actually took their paternity leave, according to the Health and Welfare ministry. The reasons given by Japanese fathers for not taking their paternity leave (see Japan’s parental leave(Association for Childhood Educational International):

“Fathers feel conflicted about the child care/work issue; they want to contribute, but feel strongly that they are expected to make a show of devotion to work, especially if they are considered the full-time “breadwinner.” …

Fathers we interviewed say the contradiction comes not so much from a true desire to be at work but rather from the pressure to be a “Japanese workaholic.” …In addition, most contemporary fathers expressed great enjoyment being in the physical presence of their children and family. One father summed it up succinctly: “We are not like our fathers–I never saw my father in the house. We WANT to be involved, but our work situations make it difficult. We can’t just leave when we want to and expect everyone to understand.” 

Fathers expressed anxiety that their individual desires are not legitimate, especially in the current economic downturn, when everyone has to make a show of working hard (Yamato, 2008). Despite not living their ideal lives, they nevertheless sacrifice their personal feelings to larger obligations…taking leave for a long period of time threatened to put them “out of touch” with developments at work. They might run the risk of being considered irresponsible or incompetent, or just plain selfish. For fathers in smaller companies (where the majority of Japanese people work), this same fear also was compounded by the psychological pressure of knowing that taking time off would put an extra burden on their co-workers. In Japan, where a company cannot legally fire an employee, perceptions of incompetence, irresponsibility, or any array of behaviors deemed “selfish” can be used to “convince” the employee to volunteer his/her resignation.”

The NPO Ikumen Club, was formed in December 2006 with web resources featuring childcare symposiums and seminars, newsletters, forums, contests, events for fathers and children to participate together. The website also offers advice on parenting and focuses on getting men to simply read a story to their children …and features book resources and tips on storytelling. And since October 2011, “Ikumen of the Year” awards are given out annually for prominent celebrities and personalities who are actively involved in child-rearing. Comedian Ryo Tamura, was interviewed in Sankei News about his ikumen parenting of his two young sons.

To boost the plummeting birth rate, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare launched the “Ikumen Project” a campaign in June 2010 and revised the Childcare and Family-care Leave Law. Under the new revised law fathers are allowed to take paternity leave for the second child and incorporates a “dad and mum childcare leave plus system”. It also allows employees with children under three years old to work shorter hours. Sumitomo Corp and NTT Data Corp are at the forefront of companies that support the Ikumen Project, and that promote ikumen parenting among their male employees. The welfare ministry has even put up a website asking men to declare themselves as ikumen (www.ikumen-project.jp). Lectures are given by various cities on ikumen parenting. An Ikumen song has even been composed for the ikumen of Kariya city in Aichi prefecture.

Hironobu Narisawa (mayor of Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward), Seiji Yanagida (mayor of Saku, Nagano Prefecture), Hidehiko Yuzaki (governor of Hiroshima) and Masato Yamada (deputy mayor of Yokohama) and other politicians have become role models in taking paternity leave after the birth of their children.

A large number of shows and documentaries feature Scandanavian, and particularly, Finnish ikumen lifestyles (see Finnish ‘ikumen’ dazzles Japan) of which the Japanese are terribly envious.

Activities at a recent event in Mie Prefecture, for example, aimed at men in their 20s-40s, featured balloon and beanbag play, as well as a workshop on how to make airplanes with paper and bamboo.

Businesses particularly restaurant businesses such as Papa Park!, are finding it worth their while to enhance their corporate image (the latter promotes the ikumen credentials of stars in its stable).  Some product brands are practising niche marketing to ikumen fathers (see Ikumen marketing)

My husband has recently become head of his regional office, and tries to promote “ikumen” lifestyle by clocking off at 6 p.m. everyday, so that his staff can return home early, by his example, to spend time with their families (unfortunately, we aren’t able to benefit from his “ikumen parenting” because my husband is currently on a tanshin funin posting).

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Sources and further reading:

Wishing to be ikumen: The Ideal and Reality of Young Japanese Fathers by Benesse

Fathers step forward (The Star Online, Apr 15, 2013)

Ikumen: raising new father figures in Japan (Japan Pulse, August 30th, 2011)

Definitions of Fatherhood (Japan Times, Sep 5, 2010)

Ikumen marketing | Tenkai-japan:Cool Japan Guide-Travel

The Land of the Raising Son (and Daughter) (Band of Fathers, September 30, 2010)

Paid Parental Leave vs. The World (Infographic), Feb 4, 2013, Huffington Post

Who are Iku-men ? – The Times of India

Iku-Men – NYTimes.com

Japan urges more dads to swap desks for diapers (Reuters, Jun 30, 2010)

Jargon Watch: Iku-men, Blitzschnell, Dark Laser | Wired Magazine 

Finnish ‘ikumen’ dazzles Japan (Yomiuri Shimbun / The Japan News)

Is Japanese family policy turning Nordic?  Department of Social Policy and Social Work Barnett House, by Tuukka Toivonen

JAPAN: Househusbands Giving Birth To More Gender Equality

Japan’s Next Big Thing: Stay-at-Home Dads? – Japan Real Time – WSJ

Ikumen Project page: 育てる男が、家族を変える。社会が動く。イクメンプロジェクト

Ikumen marketing

Comparative country notes on Japan by Hideki Nakazato (Konan University) and Junko Nishimura (Meisei University)

Parental leave still finds dads in huge minority | The Japan Times

OECD 2007 data: Use of childbirth leave by mothers and fathers

Japanese mayor takes paternity leave (Poligo)

Blogs by ikumen fathers:

Life in Japan: Ikumen Report

Ikumen Dojo: Only Proud Papas Train Here a blog by an ikumen father

Parental Leave (Wikipedia)

Fathering Japan

Parental Leave Policies in 21 Countries: Assessing Generosity(Sep 2008)

The Japanese Tanshin Funin (see also ‘Tanshin- funin’ anger often leads to heavy smoking, study says Majiroxnews, Apr 9, 2012)

Mental and physical effects of Tanshin funin, posting without family, on married male workers in Japan.   Occup Health. 2006 Mar;48(2):113-23. Nakadaira HYamamoto MMatsubara T.