According to a recent poll conducted by Mitsubishi UFJ Consulting Company, fifty-eight percent of male company employees say they “want to strike a balance between work, housework, and child rearing.” As a male dominated society, Japanese society stresses clear roles for males and females that are instilled in children from a young age. Males are the breadwinners, where success means being devoted to one company during their entire life and slowly working their way up the ranks. Women, after having children (although this is changing), have a clearly defined role as housewife and child raising expert. There is certainly a glass ceiling for women who want careers in Japan, especially if they want to work at a company, where high ranking employees are almost always male. But are men and women’s roles beginning to even out? 

In 2006, a non-profit organization called Fathering Japan opened in Tokyo, the first of its kind in Japan. It’s a school for prospective fathers and one that offers training classes using life sized dolls in order to teach men about raising children. Fathering Japan also offers work-life balance programs for fathers. In addition, it advises them which companies are “father friendly,” helping men avoid the companies who look down on employees who leave the office at a reasonable hour to go home and spend time with family. Fathering Japan also offers an official Fathering Proficiency Test. 

In 2008, these tests were given in seven locations across Japan and over one thousand dads took part, answering fifty multiple choice questions about looking after babies and raising children. The tests are impossible to fail but score results range from “Super Dad” to “You’re making me nervous Dad.” The test may sound silly but at least it gives fathers an insight to their fathering skills and suggests areas for improvement. 

In looking at solutions for how Japanese society can make it easier for working fathers to become more involved with family life, we can look toward Europe. European countries, especially those in Northern Europe, have been successful with implementing paternal leave laws. Work-life balance programs offered by European companies have also been successful as part of their staff retention strategies. Japan has been slower to change in this regard. Some Japanese men have expressed concern that they are made to feel ashamed by their company for wanting to spend time with their family. However, with organizations like Fathering Japan spreading, hopefully this will change sooner rather than later. Let's keep our fingers crossed.


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