Ikumen: raising new father figures in Japan

August 30th, 2011 by Felicity Hughes

The Ikumen Project, a government campaign launched last year to encourage Japanese men to take a more active role in parenting, is gathering momentum. Seminars aimed at men on how to develop parenting skills are now being held across the country and father figures who take time out of their work to spend time with their kids are currently being applauded in the media.

Though Japanese men traditionally take responsibility for providing financially for the family they bear little of the burden of childrearing, however with more women now in work, it makes sense to rethink these traditional gender roles. The iku in ikumen stands for ikuji, meaning “child rearing,”  so an ikumen is a guy who actively participates in the lives of his children.

Ikumen parenting events focus on encouraging men to take part in activities together with their children. Activities at a recent event in Mie Prefecture, for example, aimed at men in their 20s-40s, featured balloon and beanbag play, as well as a workshop on how to make airplanes with paper and bamboo.

The event in Mie was organized by local government, but there are other organizations supporting the ikumen campaign. NPO Ikumen Club, for instance, holds childcare seminars and dispenses advice on parenting through their website. Particularly focused on getting men to simply read a story to their children, the website features recommended books and tips on storytelling.

Ikumen are clearly good for a company’s image too. Papa Park!, run by entertainment conglomerate Yoshimoto Kogyo, sets a good example by promoting the ikumen credentials of stars in its stable.  Like comedian Ryo Tamura, for instance, who was recently interviewed in Sankei News about parenting his 7 and 3 year old sons.

One of the best advertisements for ikumen came with the recent release of the live-action adaptation of the manga classic “Bunny Drop.” The plot centers on Daikichi, a 30-year-old salaryman who suddenly finds himself responsible for the upbringing of six year old Rin, the illegitimate child of his grandfather. Not surprisingly, the movie is endorsed both by Ikumen Club, who clearly sees it as a vehicle to raise the profile of the campaign.

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