• Marc Trudel

Parental leave in Japan

I've recently come back from parental leave following the birth of my daughter. And I couldn't be happier that my daughter was born here in Japan! Given the pandemic, I had great concerns about my wife going to the hospital for the delivery, but thankfully hospitals here were following extremely strict protocols that helped put my mind at ease.

The parental leave itself was most welcome. Being able to take a few months off to be present for my wife and focus on being a good parent greatly helped with both ensuring our daughter's happiness, but also to reduce the stress level.


And yet, in Japan, many soon-to-be-mothers quit their jobs. Fathers very rarely take parental leave. This is despite Japan having one of the most flexible and generous offerings for families in the world. In fact, human resources are often so unused with dealing with parental leaves that they inadvertently can end up causing undue stress to the new parents, by sharing information just-in-time (and thus delaying certain processes).

I suspect the main reason is work pressure. In many ways, your workplace is also a family, and the last thing you'd want to do is put them in trouble because of your absence.


So today, let's discuss parental leaves in Japan. What do they consist of, how and what should you be preparing? And how can you make sure that your colleagues won't be negatively affected? While I'm still quite new to parenthood, I hope to share some knowledge and experience that will help you make your own decisions and planning.


Entering parenthood

Learning that you are to become a proud parent is perhaps one of the best news you can ever get. But of course, with great babies comes great responsibilities. And you'll want to make sure to prepare well in advance: ensuring you have enough savings, preparing your house for your new child, getting a few books on parenting, booking hospital visits, and so on.


Similarly, you'll also want to plan your parental leave ahead of time - or, at least, get familiar with how parental leaves in Japan work. The system, while very generous, is a bit elaborate, and you will want to have some idea of when you will be going on leave and for how long to make the process go smoothly. You'll also want to know ahead of time what documents will be required for your Human resources to be able to run the process on your behalf (more on this in a moment).


Everyone has their views and opinions on what good parenting is, and how they wish to raise their children. But there is always a gap between concept and reality; becoming a good parent takes time, practice, and focus. Regardless of your views, you will need to dedicate proper time and effort, and taking some time off for that is the best way to make sure to start on the right foot.


Prenatal leave, postnatal leave, childcare leave... what are they?

In Japan, childcare leaves, or ikuji kyuuka (育児休暇) refers to the leave that can be taken by both parent. However, the mother can also take pre and postnatal leaves respectively named sanzen kyuugyou (産前休業) and sango kyuugyou (産後休業).

Let's quickly break down what they mean:

  1. sanzen kyuugyou: Prenatal leave, can be taken from 6th week before the expected birth date

  2. sango kyuugyou: Postnatal leave, can be taken from the birth date up for up to 8 weeks

  3. ikuji kyuuka: Childcare leave. Can be taken by both parents (in the case of the mother, can be taken once the postnatal leave has been consumed)

Pre and postnatal leaves guarantee that the mother will receive 12 full weeks of salary. On the other hand, childcare leaves provide parents with a partial income: 67% of your full salary for the first 6 months, then 50% afterward. However, keep in mind that this amount is capped at around 300,000 JPY per month. Many HR will initially miss this last point when informing you of how childcare leaves work, and depending on your base salary this can make quite a difference.

Here are a few additional highlights worth mentioning:

  1. Maternity leaves (both prenatal and postnatal) go through health insurance.

  2. Childcare leaves go through unemployment insurance; you must have been enrolled for at least 12 months in the past 2 years. Make sure you meet this requirement!

  3. Your company will do the application on your behalf. This saves a lot of trouble... at least in theory.

  4. Payments are done directly to your bank account. No checks to cash in, or additional processes to receive the money.

  5. Childcare leave periods do not need to be consecutive. You are allowed to take up to three separate leaves until your child reaches the age of 3!

So as you can see, parental leaves are pretty great in Japan! It not only helps new parents with the period preceding and following the birth but also with the first few years of a child's life.


So... what's the catch?

Well... too few people go on leave! According to statistics, 82.5% of mothers take leave, compared to about 12.5% of fathers (up from around 4% 10 about years ago!). In the case of mothers, however, this statistic hides the fact that many wives or mothers quit their employment, which skews the numbers.


Fortunately, mentalities are starting to change, and perhaps due to the pandemic, many parents have elected to take parental leave. Alas, it appears human resources sometimes need to catch up: they often learn of the requirements and fine prints of the application process as they go, which can unfortunately greatly impact the payment schedule of the leave money. You'll get a good amount of money at once... but potentially miss a few months in between.


In my case, Wizcorp and Keywords were well organized, so I didn't run into too many issues. However, not everyone is lucky to work with such great people, so make sure to follow up regularly on the application process!


Is it worth going on leave?

Absolutely! Putting the above benefits and objectives aside, you'll want to spend the first few months of your child's life at home. You'll need the time to focus on being a good parent. You'll also need the time to do all the paperwork that follows your child's birth (for health insurance, child's allowance, and so on). But most importantly, you will want to create a strong bond with your child, so they may grow happy and fulfilled.


But you might feel as if you will be letting your team down. Maybe you are in the middle of a big production, and you are truly needed. Maybe there are tasks only you can accomplish. And if you are working in a more traditional company, you might feel a responsibility to "suck it up" and deal with the hardship associated with a newborn child.


Let me put it this way. I'm the COO at Wizcorp, and everyone was fine without me while I was on leave.

There are three reasons for this:

  1. We at Wizcorp have worked hard on fostering a culture where comfort and well-being should be commonly shared. We work for each other so we may all individually collect the fruits of our labor. And we all believe that being able to spend precious moments with your family should be pretty close to the top of the list.

  2. We have an awesome team. Everyone we hire is up to the task they are assigned and knows they can count on their peers when needed — including when you need to take a leave of absence.

  3. I made sure to live up to my team's standards by putting in place systems, documentation, calendar reminders, and redundancies so that I would know their time without me would be FUD-free.

When I am at work, I want to make sure I am 100% focused on my objectives. The way I saw it, I had a responsibility toward my team not only to take a leave but to organize the leave time in a way to avoid issues.


I can guarantee that you won't be able to work at full capacity with a newborn child. Studies show that a significant number of parents are at risk of suffering from mental health issues. I suspect this is largely due to parents not taking adequate time off to care for their child; quite often, the father continues to work, and the mother ends up shouldering most of the early child care. This will ultimately degrade the family environment and impact your work performance. It's a lose-lose situation.


Planning your parental leave

With that said, even in such an ideal environment, you will have much to do ahead of time.

Taking an extended leave must be carefully planned to avoid bad surprises and undue stress. After all, the objective is for you to be able to focus on your child, and you won't be able to do this unless you eliminate some potential sources of issues ahead of time.

Here are 10 things you will need to do to ensure a stress-free and productive parental leave:

  1. Plan for at least six months of leave for the mother, and three months of leave for the father. The mother's body needs at least this amount of time for full recovery, Additionally, the first three months are perhaps the most demanding for both the mother and your child. Keep in mind this is a bare minimum! Nothing stops you from planning for longer.

  2. Put some savings aside. Beyond the costs associated with birth, caring and nurturing your newborn will add to your current monthly costs, and while you are on leave you will not be receiving a full salary. I would recommend about two to four months of savings.

  3. Inform your team early. Many Japanese parents prefer not to let even close family know of the pregnancy until it is past the sixth or seventh month due to concerns with miscarriages (and not wanting to draw attention should it occur). However, waiting until a few months before your leave removes time from your team to prepare. It also removes time from your HR department to fetch all the information you will need, should they not have dealt with a parental leave process in recent years. This is a personal decision, but if possible I would strongly suggest giving at least four months' notice.

  4. Delegate your work, and supervise the execution. Especially important if there are no prior redundancies in place. Let people do at least some of your work before you go on leave. This will give you some time to provide feedback if needed, and help grows confidence. Check out Guillaume's article on this subject to learn more!

  5. Make sure you have a specific point of contact in human resources. You'll want to know who to keep in touch with throughout the process and what document(s) will be required, and when.

  6. Plan and drill the day of birth. Babies rarely arrive exactly on schedule. Make an ordered list of what you will need to do when the time comes. You'll want to know how to get to the hospital, plan for traffic, etc. But you'll also want to make sure your team is notified; additionally, you'll want to plan for when you won't be able to communicate with your team and make sure that team members know how to take over should you become temporarily unreachable.

  7. Submit the birth registration (出産届) as soon as possible. This needs to be completed within 14 days of the birth, but you'll probably want to also complete the paperwork for additional benefits to be paid at the same time. Have the father take care of it; if you are not feeling fluent enough as the father to do it on your own, visit the city ward before the birth and ask them what documents you will need to complete. Remember, you will need the mother's handbook (母子手帳) with the birth certification document in it!

  8. Inform your HR department of the birth as quickly as possible. Following the birth of your child, the last documents required for various application processes to begin (postnatal leave and childcare leave) will be issued. You will want to collect those documents as quickly as possible and have copies sent to your HR so they may in turn fulfill the various applications necessary to receive the various allowance money as early as possible.

  9. Meet online with your supervisor or manager monthly. While you will be off work, you'll probably want to get some news about how things are going. But most importantly, you will want to keep them updated on your status; you might wish to extend your leave, shorten it, or even perhaps split it depending on how things are going both at home and at work.

  10. Start looking for a nursery school. You should probably start this well before the birth, but child care leave is an ideal time to book visits to locations in your neighborhood. You will want to inquire about this when you go to the city hall, as the spots available for officially recognized nursery schools are always quite limited.


Coming back to work

You'll eventually be going back to work. But do not rush it unduly! Keep in mind that you can extend your leave at any time.

In my case, I decided to come back to work earlier than initially planned. Since most of Wizcorp works remotely, it's much easier to balance supporting our daughter and working on our various projects. However, you'll want to make sure to work out a schedule with your partner where you focus on work.


I would strongly suggest making any return to work progressive and finding a way to work from home if possible. It certainly has made my life easier, but it also allowed me to better support my team without having to worry too much about family matters. It's important to keep in mind that while nursery schools can take children as young as 6 months old, chances are it will take you some time before you can place your child into one due to scarce availabilities. Planning for the first year to be at home just in case is probably a good idea in that context.


I'm still learning something new every day about child-rearing, even though I am now back at work. I am certain the learning experience would have been dramatically different if I hadn't taken parental leave.


Conclusion

If you are expecting a child, plan and take parental leave. You'll not only help support your partner and foment the creation of strong bonds with your child, but you'll also avoid becoming that third wheel who can't properly focus at work in the first few months following your child's birth. Perhaps most importantly, you will contribute to supporting an upcoming trend that can only be beneficial to Japanese society.

Take a parental leave. It'll be good for everyone.


Takeaways

  • Japan has one of the best child care leave plans in the world!

  • The rate of parents taking advantage of child care leaves is still rather low, but rapidly growing every year.

  • Many human resource departments remain unfamiliar with the processes surrounding child care leave. Make sure to get them involved as early as possible, and that they give you all information ahead of time.

  • Parental leaves ensure you will be happy and productive both at home and at work.

  • Preparing for your leave is your responsibility, but always remember that you are part of a team.



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