For the First Time Ever, a Politician in Japan Is Taking Paternity Leave

Just 2 percent of men in the country take advantage of their year of paid parental leave.
(Photo: Jaunty Junto/Getty Images)
Jan 8, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

As married members of Japan’s lower house of parliament, Kensuke Miyazaki and Megumi Kaneko are a political power couple. Their profile will continue to rise next month when they have their first child, but it’s the decision they’ve made ahead of the birth that’s making headlines across the country.

Miyazaki, 34, has announced he’ll be taking a paternity leave, making him Japan’s first politician to do so. He told the BBC he wanted to set an example for other dads to take time off with their newborns. “I thought by declaring that I wanted to take paternity leave as a lawmaker, I could set an example and cause a bit of a stir,” the Liberal Democratic Party politician said through a translator.

Advocates have long argued that encouraging fathers to take paternity leave would enable moms to earn more. For every month of leave the father takes, a mother’s future earnings increase an average of 7 percent, researchers at the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation found in a widely cited 2010 study. That may explain why Sweden this year unveiled a new policy upping dads’ paid leave allowance by 30 days, to three months.

The benefits of taking paternity leave don’t end there. Studies show that when fathers take time off with their newborns, they tend to be happier and form stronger bonds with their children—and are more likely to stay at a company longer too.

Miyazaki’s announcement has been met with surprise in a country that offers one of the world’s most substantial paid leaves for fathers: 52 weeks, at nearly 60 percent of their salary, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Yet just 2 percent of working Japanese men take advantage of the policy (the same rate as in Korea, which also offers a full year of paid leave for fathers).

The decision has ignited a dialogue about the role of working fathers in a country that has struggled to attract and retain women in government leadership positions. Kaneko is one of just eight women among more than 700 members of parliament. For Japanese women who have children, the chances of staying in the workplace are slim: just 38 percent return to their jobs after childbirth, according to the World Economic Forum. It doesn’t help that harassment in the workplace is rampant when women return, according to a Japanese government survey published last month.