Taking Leave: The Book


Well, I finally committed myself to a project I’ve been talking and writing about since April 2011: Turning this blog into a book.

Those readers who have already “friended” me on Facebook probably know already, but I’d like to repeat the information here for others. I tend to be a bit private about who is my FB “friend” and who is not, in the interests of only friending people I personally know. But even if you’re not my “friend,” I hope you will consider “liking” the Taking Leave Page at https://www.facebook.com/takingleaveinJapan, where I will be gradually posting short excerpts, photos, and links to related child-raising and child care leave articles.

Some have commented on my FB page and wall that the book is timely. In a way, I think it would have been timely even had I been able to write it immediately following my child care leave. But perhaps now really is a good time, as both the US and Japan have suddenly become obsessed with maternity and paternity leave: Japan, because of the well-known “ageing society” issue as well as the “new” women working issue of the so-called “womenomics,” and the US, because of the possibility of Hillary Clinton becoming the country’s first female president.

Sports fans in the US know all about the recent “controversy” in baseball (although three-day paternity leaves have been commonplace for years now, the media jumped all over it this year).

Even forgetting about paternity leave, the US has been recently criticised as one of only four countries that doesn’t have any paid leave of any kind (the other three being Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland).

In Japan, recent jeers of a female politician hit the international news back in June. While Akio Shiomura was addressing the Tokyo Municipal Assembly about the need for more assistance for women who want to have and raise children while working, shouts came from the audience, variously translated into English as, “Why don’t you get married?” “You’re the one who ought to get married as soon as possible,” and “Can’t you even have a child?”

Sure, some citizens were “outraged” by the shouts. Only one man admitted to shouting, and he was quickly forced to resign. No others came forth. The ruling party (LDP, Liberal Democratic Party or Jimin-to in Japanese) refused to investigate, even though video was available for voice analysis.

Shinzo Abe, the current Prime Minister, says he is “recommitted” to women’s rights and to increasing women’s participation in the workforce. But when his own party is rife with sexism, to the point where the head of an LDP-run “gender issues conference” is himself sexist, Abe’s “womenomics” smacks of pure political grandstanding, all flair and no substance.

Working mothers are encouraged by tax laws to work part-time; earning less than 1,030,000 yen (about USD 10,000) per year ensures that the household will avoid income tax if their spouse is the main wage-earner….which also ensures that married women remain entirely economically dependent on their spouses.

So, what has this to do with child care leave?

Everything. When men don’t help raise their own children, when men insist that women raise children and stay at home for life, society as a whole suffers. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has estimated that the lack of gender equality in the workforce around the world as a whole has slowed down GDP growth by over a quarter. Japan could benefit by about 10% if more women can enjoy a career. Particularly in an ageing society with fewer and fewer children each year, Japan has few choices…although, apparently, Japan’s politicians have decided to increase the number of “guest workers,” who come for only a few years, earn very little money, and are frequently subject to abuse such as wage withholding, long work hours, and terrible working conditions in general.

If more men take child care leave, if there are more nursery schools, and if there are more women in better paid and more senior positions in Japanese companies, not only will the Japanese economy improve but the quality of life at home will improve, as well.

Older Japanese men just don’t get it. Women’s issues are men’s issues, too. Child care ought to be a primary concern of everybody in society, not just those who have children. Children will grow up to be the workers and leaders of society, and it’s in a country’s best interests to make sure that these future leaders get the best care, the best education, and have the best opportunities for successful careers.

And that’s why I’m turning this blog (with lots of additional information, comments, and pictures) into a book.

Look for it in December 2014! (Ideally…)

About MThomas

Long ago, I gave up my high school dreams of becoming the next Carl Sagan and instead wound up working (in order) at McDonald's, a '60s-themed restaurant, a video rental store, a used bookstore, a computer seller, Kinko's, a Jewish newspaper company, and an HR firm. I eventually became a teacher of intercultural communication in Kyoto, where I vainly attempt to apply quantum mechanics to language teaching, practice martial arts and Zen Buddhism, and always keep one eye on the sky. And yes, I know my profile photo's backward. I just think it looks better this way.
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