Asia Minute: Paternity Leave Sparks Controversy in Japan

Jan 16, 2020

There’s a development this week involving a Japanese cabinet official that’s making national news in that country. It’s not a scandal — it has to do with taking advantage of an employee benefit.

Japan’s Environment Minister plans to take a couple of weeks off when his son is born. And that’s big news across Japan: the first time a Japanese cabinet minister will take paternity leave.

Japan allows up to a full year of parental leave for mothers and fathers. But the government says very few men take advantage of the policy. In 2018, about six percent of eligible working fathers.

Last month, the government adopted a policy of allowing more than a month of paternity leave for public servants.

Shinjiro Koizumi told reporters Wednesday “I intend to take a total of two weeks of paternity leave in the three months after childbirth.” He added that he plans to use more email and video conferencing while he’s away from the office — and will not skip “important public activities.”

Laws on the books in Japan on this topic can be quite different than workplace experiences.

In a case working its way through the court system in Tokyo, a man is suing the sportswear firm Asics for “paternity harassment” — saying the company pushed him out of responsibilities in sales and marketing after he returned from six weeks of paternity leave in 2015 and a longer break in 2018.

For his part, Koizumi says he wants to be a good example for working fathers in Japan.

Koizumi is the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and is seen by some local commentators as a rising political star.