Satoshi Kawakami does more than most Japanese fathers, before and
after work, every day: he changes his children's diapers, bathes
them, or sometimes cooks for them. For the young building
maintenance worker, a job is no excuse for not taking part in
"In our family, whoever has more time does all this," Mr.
says while feeding his two sons in his suburban Tokyo apartment on a
Sunday afternoon. "I want to do a father instead of only being a
It's a sentiment that's rare in Japan. And the lack of child-
rearing participation among men is worrisome enough that the
government has now weighed in. It's sponsoring a controversial $4.1
million fatherhood campaign, attempting to nudge societal norms and
encourage more fathers to be like Kawakami.
On posters, and in television and radio ads, a well-known Japanese
pop dancer, called "Sam," cradles his nine-month-old son in his arms
and says: "You cannot call a man who doesn't care for his child a
The campaign is sparking debate over the role of fathers and
triggering outrage among Japanese males, particularly older men.
"We were really surprised to receive so many letters and telephone
calls, both positive and negative, about the campaign," says Masaki
Matsuoka, deputy director of the Child and Family Bureau at the
Health and Welfare Ministry, which sponsored the project
Typical of critics are the comments of Kiichi Inoue, a member of
parliament and father of three grown children. "I don't understand
why the ministry is spending taxpayers' money for a campaign like
this. It's the sort of thing that would make the female activist-
types happy," he says. Immediately after the launch of the campaign,
Mr. Inoue and a few other lawmakers filed a complaint to the
saying that the copy was "too extreme in tone."
"Plus, the government shouldn't meddle in private affairs, pushing
an ideal father like that. Different families have different
circumstances," he says.
Championing fatherhood is a new role for the government. It is a
move prompted ostensibly by last year's record-low birth rate of
children per woman. Fewer babies, concluded ministry officials, will
lead to fewer consumers, fewer workers, and less economic
Mr. Matsuoka also explains that the recent rise in school
violence, delinquency, and child abuse (by stressed mothers) cannot
be discussed without referring to the absence of fathers from the