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    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on May 21st, 2010

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    Hi Blog.  I just received this informative essay yesterday from Matthew Apple, who is currently on leave from his school, subsidized by the GOJ, to raise his child.  Called Ikuji Kyuugyou, Child Care Leave is possible in Japan, and he kindly offers his insights on how to do it.  I suggest expectant and new parents look into this.  It might make a difference between a well-balanced or an isolated latchkey kid in future.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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    Taking Leave: How I Successfully Applied for Child Care Leave in Japan

    By Matthew Apple, Special to Debito.org.  Received May 20, 2010.

    The other day while playing with my one year old daughter at a local child support center, I was asked by a group of mothers if I had taken one or two months of child care leave. “No, a full year,” I responded.

    Stunned expressions of disbelief followed. But I’ve gotten used to that—even though I recently became one of the few men in Japan (less than 2% annually) to take child care leave. Ah, of any kind.

    My child care leave officially started on April 1, 2010, but the process of applying for leave started about half a year prior to that. Technically, I was required to give about one month’s notice before applying for leave, according to the Act on the Welfare of Workers Who Take Care of Children or Other Family Members Including Child Care and Family Care Leave (one of the longest names on record, perhaps?). However, I was asked in November, 2009, by the General Affairs Office of my school to check with my department head for “permission” to take child care leave.

    Said permission notwithstanding, the General Affairs Chief promised me at the time that, in the event the Department Head refused or evaded, he was prepared to support me in my claim as to the legality of taking child care leave. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that, and I was given permission to apply for the leave.

    The conditions for applying for Child Care Leave were a bit complicated, but the forms were fairly simple. Essentially, because my wife or other close family relative (i.e., grandparents) was unable to care for my infant daughter, I was allowed by law to take child care leave. This is called “ikuji-kyuugyou,” or 育児休業 in Japanese. Recently I checked the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare’s homepage and discovered that the English version (http://www.mhlw.go.jp/general/seido/koyou/ryouritu/index.html) states that the leave can only be taken until the child is one year old, or in some cases up to 18 months old.

    (For more information and links to child care leave documents, please visit “Applying for Child Care Leave in Japan,” at http://takingleaveinjapan.wordpress.com/leave-links.)

    Yet I was told by the General Affairs Chief that I could take leave until my daughter was 3 years old. Since the original law was promulgated in 1991, it seems to have been revised several times. On the web the most recent revision was listed as 2005; however, since the vast majority of information available is in Japanese (including the links to the English version of the law) it may be that the information online is outdated already.

    At any rate, the conditions of the leave were that I had to be already employed for over 12 months, that I had to be able to continue working at the same company after the leave ended, and that I would not be paid at all during the leave. The last condition hurt; I was even told that not being paid during leave would additionally impact on my retirement pay from the school as well as national pension. Moreover, I still had to pay income tax, since income tax in Japan is based on the previous year’s income. But in this case, the means justified the ends. My daughter’s welfare was more important to me than a year’s salary.  At least I won’t have to pay any income tax at all next year.

    Last week, I was further informed that I could receive some financial support from the government to help care for my daughter. The official form is administered by Hello Work (surprisingly), and all funds come from unemployment insurance. Basically, I get 30% of my base salary until my daughter turns one year old, and then six months after I go back to work, I get an additional 20% as a bonus (for going back to work, I suppose). Theoretically, it’s possible to extend the benefits until my daughter is the age of 18 months, but I would have to apply and be rejected from an officially-approved day care facility after my daughter’s birthday. Seems a bit besides the point, since I’ve already taken the year leave, and since she was already rejected in February.

    As I said, I was given permission to take child care leave, which to my knowledge is the first time a male employee at my school has ever done so. One person in my department tried to convince me otherwise, saying that he and his wife had left both their children at day care when they were four and five months old. However, other male colleagues encouraged me and even congratulated me for taking the leave. Several privately confided that it was too bad the law wasn’t in effect when their own children were born. On the other hand, one female colleague told me that her husband not only didn’t bother taking leave a few years ago, but furthermore refused to lift a finger around the house at all. She lamented the fact that “Japanese men” expected their wives to do all the child-raising in addition to working a full-time job.

    Not being a Japanese man, I can’t say whether this accusation is true or not. I only know two things: The first is that Japan has the world’s lowest rate of childbirth, in addition to the world’s lowest rate of fathers taking child care leave. These seem logically connected.

    The second is that, as a teacher, I am expected to care for my students. If that’s the case, then, how can I take care of other people’s children before learning how to care for my own child?

    (You can read more about my “adventures” during my year of leave at my blog, Taking Leave in Japan at http://takingleaveinjapan.wordpress.com. )

    ENDS

    7 Responses to “Matthew Apple on how to take child care leave in Japan. Yes, even in Japan. Sanctioned by the GOJ.”

    1. Andrew Says:

      Thank you for the informative essay. I have one question. Above, it states:

      “because my wife or other close family relative (i.e., grandparents) was unable to care for my infant daughter, I was allowed by law to take child care leave”

      Can you provide more details or a link showing where this condition is specified? I don’t want to pry into your personal life but I would be interested to know exactly what you have to demonstrate in relation to this point.

    2. Kimberly Says:

      Okay, that’s all well and good and I already knew that it was possible at least according to the letter of the law…. but you’ve got these sleazy companies like the one I used to work for, NJ don’t get the same kind of contract as everyone else. I wasn’t even legally considered an employee, what I had was more or less a freelance contract (with a non-competition clause in it, is that even legal?), the word “freelance” was never actually used though, and they toss around the word “full time” in English (and “full time” in English usually means what, 40 hours a week? 5 days a week? To a newcomer who doesn’t know about employment in Japan, there was nothing that wasn’t “full time” by the English definition, I didn’t even know for a year or two that unemployment insurance existed, much less that I wasn’t paying it despite working 6 days a week exclusively for a single company… my fault for not doing the research? Absoultely. But to someone who’s never worked here before, sometimes it doesn’t occur to you that certain things would be different from the only reality you’ve ever known)

      Mr. Apple was extremely lucky, and while of course I don’t begrudge him for it (more dads should do this!), this simply isn’t the reality for a lot of workers, especially NJ workers.

      Even for my Japanese husband, I’ve printed up the sections of labor law that says he’s supposed to be paid extra for working on a Sunday or something before… and he won’t fight his boss, saying that he might win on the Sunday issue since it IS after all the law… but would then be marked as a troublemaker and it would be reflected in his bonuses and (lack of) promotions forever.

      It’s obviously a good thing to get this information out there… unfortunately, NJ especially ave often already made the mistake of signing a lousy contract by the time they find ut they are expecting (and the only thing harder than getting a seishain job as NJ is trying to do it as a pregnant woman).

      – Full time (joukin) is from 30 hours a week. Over 40 is overtime. See HANDBOOK page 74.

    3. GiantPanda Says:

      It’s the Child Care and Family Care Leave Act (that’s the short title, the official one is a bit longer). The English translation is at the following link:

      http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail/?ft=1&re=02&dn=1&x=0&y=0&co=01&ky=child+care&page=19

      You also have to carefully examine the Work Rules (shugyo kisoku) of your employer. If the company has 10 or more employees it is required by law to have work rules. Unfortunately, these might only be available in Japanese if you work for a Japanese employer. The work rules should fill in more detail about how to apply for child-care leave etc.

      The subsidies provided by the government only apply if you are enrolled in the Japanese national health insurance though. So if you are not enrolled, you can’t get the money.

      With regard to proving that your spouse cannot take care of the child, I think the main reasons for this would be (1) she is working full time (2) she is ill (3) she is just about to, or recently gave birth (4) she doesn’t reside with you for some reason… the categories are not closed I think. Also, you don’t have to prove that the grandparents are unable to provide care unless they actually reside in the same house with you.

    4. Matt Says:

      I was told that by the General Affairs Chief, because no immediate family members were able to take care of my daughter, that I was allowed to take Child Care Leave until she was the age of three. According to the Ministry’s web site (in English, Article 4-2), this condition is only when the Spouse cannot take care of the child, and/or the child cannot get into day care (the Japanese version specifies a government-approved day care). http://www.mhlw.go.jp/general/seido/koyou/ryouritu/english/e4.html#Chapter2

      I was asked to provide an official notice from my wife’s employer that she was going back to work, and also one from the municipal office stating that our daughter’s application for day care had been rejected. However, I was asked to get “permission” from my Dept Head months prior to this, basically because class syllabi and class schedules had to be created well before official child care paperwork was available. The General Affairs Office staff were very helpful, considering the paperwork was probably a headache for them.

    5. Banker Cat Says:

      Masato Yamada of METI published a book in 2006 called “Tadaima Ikukyuu-chuu” (ただいま育休中) about the year off he took from his post at the bureau to raise his third child. I heard him speak on a panel about work/life balance, and he had a lot of insightful things to say about how a year off can act as a very positive sabbatical for the working man. Half a year after I heard him talk, I took two months off from my job when my first child was born. I was the first person in my bank to have used Childcare Leave as a postnatal paternity leave.

      A few things I would add here is that childcare leave from a job is almost always unpaid, so in that sense it is more job insurance (because it is illegal for a company to fire you while you are out, and within a month of you returning) than anything else.

      Also, if I recall correctly, is it usually not possible for both parents to take childcare leave simultaenously. The reason I could take two months is that the eight weeks following birth are, for the mother, not classified as childcare leave, but rather a mandatory eight week leave (the six weeks that a woman takes prior to her expected delivery date is not mandatory, from what I recall).

    6. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      Is it just me, or does the system in Japan seem to enforce “culture”, “customs” or just “they way it’s always been” over law?

    7. john k Says:

      ndrew

      From my experince of dealing with courts/Laws etc, yes.

      Japan is a country that is based upon customs, not law and certainly not common law as we understand it.

      Laws didn’t really exist in law until the Meiji restoration… well very very loose laws at that. They quickly drafted in French/German and UK laws to appear “civilised” when those pesky Black Ships kept coming for trade. A lot of the anachronisms of the German laws still remain in the current Japanese laws! Most odd.

      In my court ruling, despite me winning, the Judge appled the ‘customs’ based caveat, which in effect nullified my win!…go figure.

      If you treat EVERYTHING from a customs based perspective, not a Law based, then it all makes sense. The custom may not, but the way Japan ticks.

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