TOKYO: Japan's environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi said Wednesday (Jan 15) he will take two weeks of paternity leave, the first time a Cabinet minister has publicly committed to such a move in the country.
The 38-year-old, who is married to a former television anchorwoman, told a ministry meeting it had been a difficult decision to balance his duties as a minister and his desire to be with his newborn.
"I want to take a total of two weeks off flexibly, making exceptions for important public duties," he said, adding he hoped his decision would help change perceptions and encourage other fathers to follow suit.
He will not take the weeks off consecutively and said he expected to work remotely or have shortened days during the leave period - which will be spread over three months from his child's birth.
The government's top spokesman backed the move, saying it was "important to create a conducive work-place atmosphere and social acceptance and support for men to ask for and take parental leave."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that he hoped Koizumi's decision would have a positive impact on attitudes to male parenting.
There are no official records on whether Cabinet ministers have previously taken parental leave, but Koizumi is the first to publicly announce he is doing so.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been trying to encourage more men to take paternity leave as part of his "Womenomics" programme of bolstering women's employment. But change has been slow.
Some other lawmakers initially criticised Koizumi's interest in taking parental leave, saying he should prioritise his duty to the public as a Cabinet minister.
Japan's parental leave policies are among the world's most generous, providing men and women with partially paid leave of up to a year, or longer if there is no public child care. Policies are even more accommodating for government workers.
But only 6 per cent of fathers take parental leave, compared to more than 80 per cent of mothers who use their allowance beyond the mandatory eight weeks after birth. This is far short of the 13 per cent target set by the government for 2020.
And of those men who take any leave, more than 70 per cent are away for less than a fortnight.
Activists say that is the result of pressure from employers and a society that prizes long work hours.
A handful of men have sued their employers alleging they were subject to what is known in Japan as "pata-hara", short for paternity harassment, after taking parental leave.
The telegenic Koizumi, popularly referred to as Shinjiro to distinguish him from his father, former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, was appointed to the high-profile post in September.
This was shortly after grabbing headlines with news that he was marrying Christel Takigawa, a French-Japanese television personality.