Inside the Japanese government’s campaign to make fatherhood sexy

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Many countries struggle with the housework gender gap, but Japan is an extreme case.  Japanese men spend the least time on chores and childcare among all the world’s wealthiest countries—just 41 minutes a day, compared to 3.7 hours each day put in by women.

And that’s bad for the economy. Japan’s workforce is shrinking and aging. To keep its economy growing, it needs more of its citizens to work, which means getting more women into the workplace. Nearly half of Japanese women quit their jobs after the birth of their first child. 

To get mothers back to work, Japan’s government has focused on encouraging men to more fully share household responsibilities. In 2010, it passed one of the most generous parental leave policies in the world at a time when 99% of men took no time off at all after their partners gave birth. And it started a campaign called the “ikumen” project.

The term “ikumen” combines the Japanese words “iku,” which means childcare, and “ikemen,” a slang for hunk. The thinking goes: if childcare becomes sexy for men, more men will take parental leave, and women will have an easier time balancing work and children.

Eight years later, “ikumen” no longer needs an introduction in Japan, and women’s labor participation rate has increased significantly. Experts say the culture around fatherhood has changed dramatically. However, only about 5% of men actually take paternity leave. Where does the “ikumen” project fall short? What are the remaining obstacles to closing the housework gender gap?

Quartz News answers these questions by taking Quartz members inside the place where the “ikumen” project began. This is the second story in our two-part video series on Japan’s reckoning with its aging population. Watch the first story about Japan’s immigration overhaul here.