AP

APRIL 23, 15:16 EDT

Japan Dad Campaign Draws Protests

By YURI KAGEYAMA
Associated Press Writer

TOKYO (AP) — A baby smiles in the arms of a doting dad. ``A man who does not help in child-rearing can't be called a father,'' the voice on the TV public announcement gently admonishes.

A Japanese government campaign, underway for the past month, had the best of intentions — encouraging men to lend their wives a helping hand with the children at a time when more women are working outside the home.

But the posters and TV segment have set off a public outcry from Japanese men and the topic has been hotly debated on TV talk shows as well as in a special ``absent dads'' series in the major Asahi newspaper.

``Of course there's outrage,'' fumed Kiichi Inoue, a lawmaker opposed to the campaign. ``A parent-child relationship is not determined by child care.''

Inoue said he couldn't help around the house when his children were young because he worked long hours, frequently returning home from the office at midnight.

``I'd have died,'' he said in an interview at his parliamentary office, adding that he believed women were better at child rearing than men anyway.

Despite such arguments, a government report released Friday shows that, on average, Japanese women spend more time working each day than their husbands. Japanese women put in about 10 hours of work each day between jobs and home, it said — one hour more than their husbands.

It said Japanese men spend about a fifth of the time their wives do on child care and less than a tenth on housework. By contrast, American men did almost as much of the shopping as their wives and about half of the child-care and other housework, it said, citing statistics from the U.N. Development Program.

The number of Japanese women in the work force has been steadily growing since the mid-1970s, and numbered about 21 million in 1998, or about 39 percent of the nation's workers. That compares to about 15 million working women in 1988.

Nevertheless, Japanese women are still overwhelmingly responsible for cleaning, cooking and childcare, according to the report, which said men put in about seven minutes a day on housework, compared to about three hours for women.

It said Japanese men spend only about seven minutes a day caring for their children.

``It was a battle to get my husband to help out with the kids,'' says nurse Chieko Ota. ``Japanese men tend to think only about their jobs and aren't very interested in taking care of their children.''

The Health Ministry, which sponsored the $4.2 million fatherhood campaign, has received many letters and telephone calls in protest.

``Many men feel they are very busy, they have to work late and can't help with child care even if they wanted to,'' said ministry official Masaki Matsuoka.

Even Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi felt compelled to defend the campaign in Parliament, saying it had deepened his ``awareness about men's participation in child rearing.''

Hiroyuki Narusawa of the Tokyo advertising company I and S, which designed the campaign, acknowledged receiving complaints, even from coworkers.

``But others thanked us for coming out and saying it,'' Narusawa said.

A major motive for the campaign is Japan's dwindling birth rate, now at a record low 1.39 children per woman. Fearing fewer children will lead to shrinking prosperity, the government says women are avoiding pregnancy because of uncooperative dads.

Still, Tateo Hoshi, 50, of the Men's Child Care Organization, a grassroots support group for fathers, says Japanese men have come a long way compared to 20 years ago.

``When I was seen carrying our child around, people thought I was out of my mind,'' Hoshi said.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.