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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #5: September 5, 2002

Paternal Childcare Leave in Japan 2002

J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)

On 28 August 2002, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare requested a 4.6% increase in spending for fiscal 2003 to promote various child-rearing measures for slowing the declining birthrate.* One of the many progressive policy proposals was a series of initiatives designed to encourage Japanese fathers to play a more active role in various childcare activities. This area certainly requires some attention as Japanese men, like many of their counterparts in other industrially advanced countries, have extremely poor uptake levels of paternal childcare leave.

The Ministry is asking for 1.04 trillion yen from next year's national budget to help advance family-friendly work policies which are part of the government's strategy to curb the declining birth rate and alleviate future labour shortages. The number of babies born over the one-year period up to 31 March 2002 hit a record low of 1.17 million. In order to promote paternal childcare leave, the Ministry advocates the establishment of a special 500 million yen fund which would support employers who implement the policy. If the budget is approved, companies may get about one million yen as a one-time payment from the Ministry to implement liberal childcare leave policies.

In 2002, fathers qualified for two primary kinds of leave; these were Childcare Leave (Ikuji kyuuka) and Family Care Leave (Kazokukaigo kyuuka). Male and female employees can take Childcare Leave up until the child’s first birthday. An allowance can be paid to the employee when this leave is taken which equals about forty percent of regular pay. Family Care Leave can be taken for the purpose of looking after a child or other family member who is in need of constant care for a period of two weeks or more due to illness. This leave is unpaid and is limited to a maximum of three months.

Overview of Paternal Childcare Leave in Japan 2002
Type of LeaveDurationLevel of Payment
Childcare Leave
(Ikuji Kyuuka)
For both parents
until child reaches one year of age 40% of the basic wage (30% during the leave and 10% upon return to work)
Family Care Leave
(Kazokukaigo Kyuuka)
For both parents
3 months unpaid

While overall uptake levels for Childcare Leave are quite good at about fifty-seven percent during the nineties, the number of men who took the leave was extremely low. Figures published in September 1993 by the Ministry of Education for the teaching profession illustrate the gender imbalance in taking childcare leave. In 1992 only eleven male teachers took childcare leave, compared with 21,650 female educators. According to a 1997 report by the Women's Bureau of the Ministry of Labor, between 1 April 1995 and 31 March 1996 a mere 0.6 percent of male workers took paternal Childcare Leave. This poor situation has not improved, in fact deteriorating slightly in recent years. According to a 1999 national survey, female uptake for Childcare Leave for all enterprises with over five employees was 56.4%, but the same survey showed only 0.42% of males taking the leave. A 2001 Survey showed only 0.3% of male public employers taking the leave.**

The small decrease is probably a manifestation of concerns about job-security during the economic downturn of the nineties. Poor economic conditions make male workers more reluctant than usual to take any kind of leave, especially in a climate of restructuring and job-cutting. However, the very low levels of remuneration were the most likely factor in deterring both men and women from taking the leave. According to a February 2001 survey, the main reasons why men do not take paternal leave are (1) their amount of work and responsibility is too great; (2) the reduction in income; and (3) their employer would be unsympathetic to them taking leave.***

Until it was raised to 40% in 2001, the level of compensation had only been 25%. Japanese NGOs and citizens' organizations complain that the amount of compensation for Childcare Leave is too low. The government also acknowledges that economic reasons deter both men and women taking the leave.****

Another factor in the equation is gender stereotyping in the workplace, which is still quite strong in some occupations. Before the mid-eighties, Japanese state policy contained a strong undercurrent of gender bias. The approach could largely be summed up by the view that until a child reached the age of three, a mother's care was best. A lack of childcare facilities made it difficult for most mothers with young children to work. There was also a discernible emphasis on the mother's role of nurturing from which the father was noticeable by his absence. However, during the nineties this policy shifted quite radically. Through a combination of new legislation and amendments to existing laws, Japan made great progress in its provisions for childcare and family leave for both parents.

Furthermore, near the end of 2001, the government introduced amendments to the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law in order to create an entitlement for taking leave to care for sick preschool children. This established a short-term leave system to care for sick children, bringing Japan in line with many EU countries and ahead of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, inter alia. The amendment allows workers with preschool children to take leave when a child is sick or injured. Additionally, there were amendments to improve the Child Care and Family Care Leave Law in 2002. Under the amended statues, flextime or reduced working hours would also be extended to all parents with children younger than three years of age who do not take childcare leave. Of course, the dire economic climate made most workers reluctant to actually claim these new entitlements, but this will probably change when the situation improves.

Overview of 2001-2002 Amendments
Amended LawPreviousNew Amendment
Child Care and Family Care Leave Law No right to short-term leave to take care of sick children, instead parents take paid or unpaid leave Parents entitled to take short-term leave to take care of a sick preschool children
Labor Standards Law Only female workers with preschool children could refuse to work more than 150 hours of overtime per year Male and female employees with preschool children may refuse to work more than 150 hours of overtime annually or twenty-four hours per month
Child Care and Family Care Leave Law Flextime or reduced working hours for a parent with a child under one year who does not take childcare leave Flextime or reduced working hours extended to all parents with children under three years who do not take childcare leave

By 2002, as measured in terms of international comparisons, Japan fares reasonably well with regard to childcare leave provisions for both parents. It is ahead of many countries with its family care leave and leave to care for sick child schemes. From a legislative viewpoint, the current regulations form a good basis upon which to build a more family-friendly work environment.

In some areas of social legislation, Japan is ahead of other industrially advanced countries such as Britain, Ireland and the United States, inter alia. None of these countries have a childcare leave law. Furthermore, by international standards the period of time allocated for the leave is fairly progressive, ranking Japan equal with Norway, New Zealand, Australia and Denmark. However, Japan has a very long way to go before it can match Norway, Sweden and Denmark which all have high uptake levels of paternal childcare and some of the most family-friendly schemes in the world.*****

Despite all the policy initiatives of recent years, the majority of Japanese mothers still quit work due to pregnancy and fathers rarely take paternal childcare leave. This indicates that family-friendly work policies still need to be developed further if the government wishes to create a more gender equal work environment and slow the declining birthrate.


* Kourousho, ippankaikei 19-chou 5-senokuen youkyuu shoushika taisaku 1 chouen (Japanese)
[Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry 19.5 trillion yen budget request, 1 trillion yen programme to boost the nation's birthrate]
Asahi Shimbun, 28 August 2002

** Kourousho ga shoushika taisaku, ikuji kyuuka shutoku e suuchi mokuhyou (Japanese)
[Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry policies to boost the nation's birthrate, numerical targets for uptake of childcare leave]
5 August 2002 Nihon Keizai Shimbun article

Ikukyuu totta dansei kokkakoumuin wa 0.3% (Japanese)
[0.3% of male public employees take childcare leave]
Asahi Shimbun, 30 August 2002

Fathers and Childcare Leave
J. Sean Curtin, NBR'S JAPAN FORUM, Friday 4 January 2002
[Note: The figure 54.6% is incorrect and should read 56.4%]

*** Maternity Leave and Childcare Leave: Parental Attitudes
J. Sean Curtin, NBR'S JAPAN FORUM, Thursday 13 December 2001

**** Otoko mo onna mo ikuji jJikan wo! Renrakukai
[Child Care Hours for Men and Women Network] (Japanese with a few articles and links in English)

Maternity Leave and Childcare Leave: 2002 Amendments
J. Sean Curtin, NBR'S JAPAN FORUM, Wednesday 12 December 2001

**** Parental Care of Children: Family Leave Policy and the Regulation of Working Time
Janet C. Gornick & Marcia K. Meyers (9 June 2002)

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