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Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011

More men turning to homemaking

Job burnout, better pay for women help push trend


By SAWAKO OBARA
Kyodo News

As public perceptions of traditional gender roles shift, more Japanese men are willing to take on homemaking. Some opinion polls show most males in their 20s and 30s have no negative notions of men serving as househusbands.

News photo
Mr. Mom: Masashi Nihei, a 30-year-old stay-at-home husband in Kanagawa Prefecture, entertains his baby son at their home in January. KYODO PHOTO

Working around the house instead of holding down a career has increasingly become an option since more wives are staying in the workforce. Meanwhile, more men are trying to start their lives anew at home after burning out on excessively demanding jobs.

Takatoshi Miyauchi, 31, gets up every morning at 5 to scrub the floors of his Tokyo house. He then turns on the bread maker and begins preparing breakfast. After his family finishes eating, he heads out at around 8, taking his 2- and 3-year-old daughters to day care.

He does the laundry and cleans the home before returning to the day care center to pick up his kids. Then dinnertime comes, after which he tucks in the children at 9 in the evening. Exhausted, he often falls asleep together with them.

Miyauchi says the day passes quickly, what with all the household chores keeping him busy.

When they got married, he and his wife had planned to raise children while keeping their double-income lifestyle. But Miyauchi fell ill from overwork, and strained relationships at his workplace added to his stress. He quit and devoted himself to homemaking.

He thought he would be a stay-at-home dad only for a while, but a second child came along, making it difficult to juggle the job search and parenting. He decided about a year and a half ago to remain a homemaker.

His wife, who works in the research and development department at a medical equipment firm, is the family's sole breadwinner.

Miyauchi had mixed feelings about becoming a househusband. He thought of himself as a failure and didn't tell others about his life decision. But he got over it when his acquaintances barely batted an eye when he told them he had decided not to seek a new job.

News photo
Takatoshi Miyauchi, 31, also a stay-at-home dad, prepares a meal last month while looking after his younger daughter in Tokyo. KYODO PHOTO

Miyauchi compares his role with that of a company's general administration department, handling all manner of tasks to support the work of the entire firm.

"I used to underestimate housework, thinking it was easy, but now I've realized it requires a serious commitment," he says.

Now feeling more comfortable with himself, he runs a blog titled "Katarue," chronicling his day-to-day activities in comic strips in hopes of networking with people in similar situations.

Masashi Nihei, a 30-year-old resident of Kanagawa Prefecture, decided to become a stay-at-home dad last September and says he has no second thoughts.

Nihei had a busy career as a computer programmer, often giving up weekends to work. But after a child was born, he became a househusband because he excels at homemaking. His wife, who holds a higher-paying job, continues to work.

"I'm happier now because I used to work all the time," he says. "I can keep a close watch as my baby starts to teethe and learns to toss and turn in bed. I also feel great because my child is more attached to me than to my wife."

According to welfare ministry data, the number of men financially supported by their spouses has been rising steadily in recent years. It reached 110,037 as of March 31 last year, up from 98,510 three years earlier. There was a particularly sharp increase of 6,490 in the fiscal year through March 2010.

A survey in 2009 of some 1,100 young men conducted by a Tokyo matchmaking service, O-net Inc., found that 62 percent of the respondents in their 20s and 69 percent of those in their 30s think there is nothing problematic about a man becoming a homemaker.

The rise in women's earning power could be one factor. The average disposable income of single women aged 29 or younger exceeded that of their male counterparts for the first time in 2009, according to the internal affairs ministry.

Masahiro Yamada, a sociologist at Chuo University, points out that many women also want to become homemakers because of generally harsh working conditions. Regular company employees are often worn to a frazzle by long hours, while nonregular workers worry about their future due to the lack of job security.

"It's good that the public attitude (toward a man becoming a househusband) has changed, but it is hard to make ends meet on a single income, so few can afford to become full-time homemakers," Yamada said.



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