It’s official. Today I have become the first male worker ever at a Japanese National College of Technology to take Child Care Leave.
I have been granted official leave from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011. The term in Japanese is “Ikuji-kyugyo,” which is sometimes translated as “parental leave,” but more accurately ought to be “child-raising leave.” (Literally, “grow child absence work.”)
My taking a full year of leave to raise my child at times may seem audacious; after all, Tony Blair only took two weeks in 2000, a move supported by most British men, although Blair called it a “working leave.” Blair’s reason was the same as the Mayor of Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, whose leave starts April 3, 2010 (two days from now). Both Blair and Mayor Narisawa claimed to be taking leave in order to set an example. Narisawa was quoted in Mainichi Shimbun as saying:
“‘I believe men are reluctant to take parental leave because they are worried about salary cuts, the reaction of their colleagues, and its impact on their career paths. I hope my example will contribute to promoting a working environment where male workers can feel comfortable about taking leave for their children.'”
Being worried about salary cuts is obviously an issue, as is the influence on one’s career. For example, this year I will have to pay income tax, despite not having an income. That’s because Japanese income tax is always based on what you made during the previous year. (Of course, since I will have no salary this year, in effect it means that I won’t pay any income tax in 2011.)
But the real issue ought to be why we make it such a big deal when a man takes leave at all. Women have been dealing with this issue for years now, but the media seems to devote little attention to the pressure women feel to not take leave (or, more often, to quit their jobs or become part-time). The same Mainichi Shimbun article from above (and also the original Japanese version) reported that over 95% of eligible women among 1847 government-related institutions took child care leave, while only 0.6% of men did so.
So, taking leave to raise your child is not the real concern. A man taking leave to raise his child is.
The strange thing is that while the percentage of men taking leave is extremely low in Japan overall (figures such as 2% are often cited, but even that seems optimistic), the Japanese law is extremely generous. A full year is what I’m taking, but legally I’m allowed to take leave until my daughter turns 3 years old. Of course, that would be a long time without pay (close to two years), but still the law is very generous. My own country (the U. S.) has a so-called “Family and Medical Leave Act,” which stipulates up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave — but only for public institutions with more than 50 full time workers. Twelve weeks is not exactly a long time period. And even then, many U. S. parents feel pressured not to take leave at all.
(That said, a mere two weeks of leave is no where nearly adequate enough for a father to experience the daily routine of raising a child. Too bad Mayor Narisawa didn’t bite the bullet and take at least two months — especially since his son was just born a few weeks ago, meaning that the Mayor will be at home together with his wife, and won’t be looking after his son by himself.)
One of the main reasons I decided to take leave was to help raise the child for whom both my wife and I are responsible, in an equal partnership marriage as we both promised each other. But another reason (perhaps somewhat selfishly) is to spend valuable time with my child in a crucial stage of her personal development so that I can help her grow up.
My daughter will only be 1 year old for one year of her life — this year. I’m not going to let the chance to spend time with her slip away without taking every opportunity I can to spend time with her. I’d even go so far as to say that not only should fathers be allowed to take a full year of child care leave, but that they should be required to take a year of leave. What father wouldn’t cherish the chance to raise his child?