A fair bit of ink has been spilled on the division of gender roles in Japanese society and the ensuing effect on fertility rates (a dismal 1.21). Poor prospects for employment, especially after child-rearing, and a lack of support for mothers discourages many Japanese women from having children. The response of the Japanese government has been to provide incentives to keep women at home, pretty much the worst thing they could have done in my opinion. Furthermore, the politicians haven't really been putting their money where their mouths are. Japan has hitherto spent a mere 0.75 of their GDP on benefits for families. The new Hatoyama administration has said they'll do more. We'll wait and see. They did campaign on bread and butter issues (Seikatsu Dai-ichi) after all. However I think the majority of voters are worrying more about their pensions, and so I have my doubts that the fertility issue will get higher up on the agenda in practice.
Anyway, I've been a little idle, and in an attempt to do anything but work on my paper I decided to take a look at a little of the family policy of Sweden, which has a better Total Fertility Rate (1.91 2008 1.67 2009 est.), and spends about four times as much as Japan on family benefits. Check out the progressive, yet super complicated, parental leave provisions. I think though that the state's strict policies on gender equality might have more to do with shaping the effectiveness of this policy. Since in Japan I'd argue that it is generally accepted that men will earn more and are more likely to be able to work consistently over their lifetimes. Therefore I can't see men taking time off work to provide childcare for any significant time as flying over here. I believe it would be percieved as hurting earning potential, and many men dread the thought of stares from people who think the only reason they're out with the stroller is because they're somehow "damaged". Why else would they be out of work, or doing "women's" work?