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Japanese Men Are Taking Baby Steps Toward Paternity Leave

TOKYO—A potential future prime minister of Japan is setting himself up as a role model by taking time off to help look after his new baby, something few Japanese fathers do.

Environment Minister

Shinjiro Koizumi,

38, a son of former Prime Minister

Junichiro Koizumi,

said he would take about two weeks off over the three months following the birth of his first child, which is expected as soon as this month.

“I hope my child-care leave will serve as a spur for everyone in the Environment Ministry to take child-care leave without hesitation and advance a style of work in which that is easy,” Mr. Koizumi said at a ministry meeting Wednesday, according to an official.

As a cabinet minister and member of Parliament, Mr. Koizumi isn’t covered by any system of paternity leave and is entitled to set his own work schedule, so his description of his time off as child-care leave or paternity leave is purely symbolic.

Still, male employees at the ministry welcomed his announcement as an example for others.

“Because the minister took the lead, I believe the atmosphere within the ministry will change, and men taking child-care leave will come one step closer to becoming a norm,” said Keita Suzuki, who works in the ministry’s international strategy division.

Mr. Koizumi married news anchor Christel Takigawa in August when she was pregnant with their child. He is often mentioned as a future prime minister, although he has struggled as environment minister in balancing Japan’s reliance on coal-fired electric-power plants with the demands of anticoal activists.

Prime Minister

Shinzo Abe’s

government has encouraged more men to take child-care leave, part of a campaign to add working mothers to the workforce. The government hopes to raise the rate of men taking child-care leave to 13% this year, compared with 6% in the year ended in March 2019.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japan is among the most generous nations in parental leave, with eligible employees entitled to up to 52 weeks off at reduced pay. Some people such as day laborers and members of Parliament aren’t covered by the policy. Most men don’t take advantage, either out of ignorance of the system or fear that bosses and colleagues won’t approve.

Mr. Koizumi said he wouldn’t go fully off the grid during the days he is designating as child-care leave. He said he might work from home or come to the office for part of the day.

Akiko Kojima, a researcher at the Japan Research Institute, said many men were taking leave for a day or two to help companies meet government-encouraged targets, without much practical benefit for their wives.

“It would be better for fathers to take leave flexibly and continuously,” Ms. Kojima said. “The true purpose of paternity leave should be division of housework and child care between a husband and wife.”

Yoko Suzuki, a researcher at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting, said people tended to see paternity leave as a way to support women but they should also keep in mind that there are men who want more active involvement in child-rearing.

Michihiro Oi, an Environment Ministry official around age 50, said the advances came too late for him. “I wish my minister had been Mr. Koizumi 20 years ago,” Mr. Oi said.

Write to Megumi Fujikawa at megumi.fujikawa@wsj.com and River Davis at River.Davis@wsj.com

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