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Fathers Are a Hot Topic in Japan

  • Catherine Makino

In Japan, fathers traditionally have little to do with child-rearing. But in now, fatherhood is fashionable, and new magazines devoted to young fathers are highlighting the trend, as Catherine Makino reports from Tokyo.

It is stylish to be a "cool dad" in Japan these days, and it is not uncommon to see young fathers playing with their children in the park. This is in sharp contrast to the previous generation of fathers who were devoted to work, spent little time at home, and rarely communicated with their children.

In the past two years, child-rearing magazines specifically targeting fathers have sprung up in Japan, offering information on safety, education, and communicating with children.

Nikkei Kids Plus, which hit the newsstands in October 2005, was the first of these magazines, followed by President Family and Oceans.

FQ Quarterly, which stands for Father's Quarterly, is the latest.

Its message is "Be a cool dad" and the magazine recently featured actor Johnny Depp on its cover, discussing his experience as a father. When it debuted last December, it sold more than 50,000 copies.

Tomohiro Shimizu, editor-in-chief of FQ Quarterly, says he published the magazine because he wanted to take the stigma out of being a doting dad and to help men take a more active role in parenting.

"First of all, fathers should not be ashamed of being indulgent and enjoy their time with their children," he said. "Although they are busy working, they should feel that family is more important than work. Fathers in Japan play much less of a role in raising children than fathers in Western countries and we need to catch up."

Shimizu, who is 39 years old and has a three-year-old son, says he also wanted to help create a balance between work and raising children.

But many fathers find this difficult. In fact, according to the International Comparative Research on Home Education, the average Japanese father spends about three hours each weekday with his children. Only South Korean fathers spend less time. Fathers in Thailand spent the most time with their children, almost six hours a day.

The survey says about 40 percent of Japanese fathers are concerned about the short time they spend with their children.

Japanese fathers traditionally spent little time with their children because their loyalty was to their company. From the 1960s to the early 80s, many Japanese believed that workplace success was the top priority for men. The absent father was a sign of a successful man.

Shimizu argues it is crucial to abandon that tradition. He says that unless fathers become more involved at home, school problems such as bullying, violence and declining academic performance will likely get worse.

"Communities are not close anymore and with many women working, who is going to take care of the kids? … Before, grandparents lived with their children and helped take care of the kids while the neighbors also helped out…. But things have changed," he said.

Satoshi Watanabe, an associate professor of business sciences at the Tsukuba University near Tokyo, is determined to spend time with his two young sons.

"As my wife appreciates the time that she spends with our kids, I would like to spend some time with my kids. And it's so precious in my life and I really need it. So, of course you know family and my business and balancing that is very important, so this what I really need in my life," he said.

Watanabe points out that he is trying to change Japanese attitudes about fathers. He was the first man to take child-care leave from his university a year and a half ago when his second son was born. His decision surprised his co-workers.

He said, "It was a big shock for them, my colleagues were like, 'so are you going to be away from your office for two weeks, that's too long, there is going to be a lot of, you know, student affairs and economic affairs and faculty affairs. What are you going to do with it?' But what I thought was I … my family is more important than that … so I had to take this child-care leave."

Watanabe says he did not suffer repercussions from taking leave.

Only one percent of Japanese fathers take child-care leave. In contrast, more than 70 percent of women quit their jobs when they have a child.

While Watanabe's children may grow up to with fond memories of their dad spending time with them, many Japanese men in their 30s and 40s say they do not remember their fathers playing or even communicating with them.

That means, publishers figure, their hip new fatherhood magazines may be the only way young dads can learn how to raise their children.

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