On a weekday morning in July, Takatoshi Miyauchi and two other men were chatting at a Tokyo restaurant.
“My wife doesn’t wash the dishes, but for some reason she does clean the sink,” one of them said, while another complained: “My wife just throws her clothes into the washing machine inside out. I got fed up with reversing them, so I just fold them that way.”
The three men are homemakers and members of Lennonpapa, a network for stay-at-home dads raising children. The network’s members organise get-togethers like this to let off steam once every two months.
Miyauchi, 37, has two daughters in primary school – one in the second grade and the other in the third grade.
He became a full-time homemaker seven years ago when the birth of his second daughter made child-rearing duties harder.
At the time he was frequently sick and his wife’s annual income was about two million yen higher than his, so he decided to let her be the family breadwinner. His wife agreed because she was worried about his health and urged him not to over-exert himself.
The number of men who are full-time homemakers appears to be on the rise. In the 1990s, the number of males in the national pension system’s category III for a dependent spouse – aged 20 to 59 years – of a company or government employee, for example, was between 40 000 and 50 000. But since fiscal 2007 the number has increased to between 100 000 and 110 000.
“This is because employment has become unstable and wives are now able to earn more (than ever),” said Shigeki Matsuda, a Chukyo University professor who specialises in family sociology.
Toko Shirakawa, a journalist who wrote the book Sengyo Shufu’ ni Naritai Otokotachi ( Men who want to become full-time househusbands), said: “A decade ago, full-time male homemakers appeared to be fighting against conventional public perceptions, but now they seem to be naturally choosing (the option of becoming a full-time homemaker) to assist their families due to working wives giving birth, sickness, losing their job, care giving or other reasons.”
In 2013, Gurunavi Wedding, a search site for wedding information, polled 787 men and women nationwide to gather their views on male homemakers.
The results were evenly split with “good impression,” “no particular impression at all” and “not a very good impression”, each recording about 30 percent.
“Initially, I experienced inner turmoil, asking myself whether I was a real man,” Miyauchi said. But he now feels proud that he is supporting his family. “As I’m now more involved with my local community, I feel fulfilled.”
Another Lennonpapa member who became a full-time homemaker four years ago after his wife gave birth, said: “I don’t care what others think about me.” The 46-year-old added that he enjoyed interacting with friendly mothers.
So will the number of male homemakers continue to increase?
In 2014, marriage agency Zwei surveyed 1 077 single men and women in their 20s to 60s who wanted to get married, and found that about 10 percent of the men aimed to become homemakers.
“Unlike other advanced nations, if you quit your job in Japan it’s hard to resume your career.
:In a society where it is difficult for men to be proud that they are homemakers, I don’t imagine the number will increase much more,” said Masahiro Yamada, a Chuo University professor who specialises in family sociology.
Shirakawa believes that at a time when the economic outlook is uncertain, dual-income couples will be the mainstream.
“I think women really want their husbands to earn a living. But it is a fact that male homemakers do make working women happy,” she said.
“Some high-income women might be interested in having their husbands become full-time homemakers.”