Arama They Didn't

9:04 am - 06/12/2012

Single fathers unite to voice their concerns about benefits in Japan

A group of dads and their small kids gathered around for a step-by-step demonstration of how to make perfect French toast. Then they got busy cracking eggs and beating them, cutting the bread into small squares that they dipped in the egg and then dropped into a hot skillet to watch sizzle as a buttery scent wafted through the room. Finally, they sliced up some banana and strawberry and topped the whole thing off with whipped cream. Voila!

"In 'Kramer versus Kramer,' (a film about a man who is suddenly thrust into single fatherhood) Dustin Hoffman can't make French toast," said Tomoyuki Katayama, the event's organizer. "But then he learns how and does it beautifully at the end."

That little anecdote sheds light on the events that led 41-year-old Katayama to the Gender Equality Center in Nishinomiya city in Hyogo Prefecture on a Saturday morning in mid-January. He was there to help local dads bond with their kids over French toast, to give a talk on the state of single fatherhood in Japan and offer his thoughts on the way forward, as he recently had in a bunch of other cities.

Since late 2009, when he founded Single Father Japan, a Niigata-based NPO that advocates the interests of single fathers, Katayama has been raising awareness of low-income single dads and petitioning the government to get them the same benefits as single mothers. The plight of such men is quite a twist in a patriarchal culture where the short end of the stick is typically reserved for women. But with an increase in divorce and rising female independence, the number of single fathers in Japan rose from roughly 166,000 in 2005 to 204,000 in 2010, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Over a bento (packed lunch) before his lecture, Katayama, who grew up in Niigata Prefecture, shared his story. He confessed that when he got married in 1993 he never imagined he would become a single parent, much less that he would spearhead a movement to fight for single fathers' equal rights.

When his marriage officially ended in 2005, he gained custody of his two kids — a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. At the time, he said he had little sympathy for struggling single dads because, like many people in Japan, he thought it a man's duty to support his family on his own.

Over the next few years, he was active in an online community of single parents where he dispensed legal advice about divorce. One day in 2008, a man contacted him for guidance. He said he was unable to juggle child-rearing and his demanding job, so he quit. But he couldn't find another job because prospective employers didn't think a single dad with a toddler was a safe bet. When he contacted Katayama, he had used up his savings and was getting evicted from his apartment.

His dilemma: Should he kill only himself? Or would it make more sense to take his child along with him?

Katayama stayed up all night on the phone talking him out of suicide and explaining how to get help. He was outraged that this man had not been given a break and felt that not only were the unsympathetic companies to blame but also that society itself had let him down.

"That was the trigger," he said. "It made me realize that we need support for single fathers in Japan."

The following year, through Fathering Japan, an organization he had joined, Katayama got involved in a new charity — the French Toast Fund, which provided money for needy single fathers. Then, after the 2009 election, Katayama decided the only way to bring about legislative change was to give the government a big push. To strengthen their voices, he brought together various regional groups that support single fathers to form a unified nationwide organization — Single Father Japan.

The organization's first order of business was to get financially strapped single dads child-care allowance, something that single moms were entitled to, but fathers were not. Once Single Father Japan had aroused media interest in the cause, the government took notice and it passed a bill granting allowances to men, which went into effect in August 2010. After six months, 59,000 single-father families were receiving it.

The next battle was to fight for bereavement benefits for fathers who have lost their wives, which with the increase of widowers after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami has become a heightened concern. The bill is currently winding its way through the legislature.

Katayama said he is driven by the desire to remove the stigma from single fatherhood in Japan, to level the playing field for single dads of today and to make sure the next generation won't have it as hard as his did.

"What we really need," he said, "is a safety net that stops single fathers from falling into a bottomless pit."

toshi_hakari 12th-Jun-2012 05:05 pm (UTC)
I think it's great that single dads are fighting for equal rights to get more support from the government. I remember when we talked about this at uni when I still studied Japanese and I felt it was a very interesting and important topic (I actually wanted to write a paper about it, but couldn't find a lot of books and articles talking about it... and I didn't know any single dads in Japan XD). I was shocked to hear that it's seen as a husband's fault if the marriage breaks apart and the like :/

Just goes to show that things do change in Japan and I think they should get all the support they need :)
crimsonbreeze 12th-Jun-2012 05:06 pm (UTC)
Man, this is a fantastic article. One of my fantasies is to marry a single father... LOL
(no subject) - Anonymous
crimsonbreeze 12th-Jun-2012 05:10 pm (UTC)
Because I prefer to give my motherly love to a child that is already in need of it, than having my own kids. Also, single fathers have a greater sense of responsibility... at least in my very own opinion. I know exceptions exist for every rule but that's how I think.
mathemadical 13th-Jun-2012 10:02 am (UTC)
^MTE. I'm quite glad that I'm not alone.
icarusbride 15th-Jun-2012 09:19 am (UTC)
I agree with this too!
simply_shine 16th-Jun-2012 04:25 am (UTC)
I never thought about this before, but I think I actually agree.

And this entire article is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing it!

Edited at 2012-06-16 04:27 am (UTC)
very_pinku 12th-Jun-2012 05:07 pm (UTC)
I remember the drama Don Quixote dealing with this topic. A father who lost his wife, resulting in taking care of his only daughter.
He really cared for her but due to his job taking most of his time, he could not take care of his child, resulting in her being neglected.

As much as there is an image that fathers make more money than mothers,
it is difficult for fathers to take care of their young child on their own due to the demands of time and expectations that mothers are to the one taking care of the child because they have 'natural neutering qualities'.
And not all fathers are financially well off or have the luxury to be at home cause I hear how there's husbands in Japan mostly out working and barely at home.

I really hope that starts to change more because there needs to be a balanced mental and physical health to really accomplish the job well.
And children need that type of healthy environment, especially from their parents.
katsuno_hitomi 12th-Jun-2012 05:16 pm (UTC)
Kudos to all single dads for doing what they do, regardless of nationality!
helenmaldon 12th-Jun-2012 05:21 pm (UTC)
What I wonderful article! I really hope this amazing guy succeeds!!
And because Kramer vs. Kramer is one of my favorite movies:

risuw_chan 12th-Jun-2012 05:37 pm (UTC)
nice articles, thanks
winds_daichi 12th-Jun-2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
This is a very touching article. ^.^ It should be after this article that more awareness should be given. It's not only just men who become completely independent or dies in a marriage, sometimes women leave the family or she unfortunately dies. Men shouldn't be double-standard-ed because of society. I hope they get more help. They deserve it.
sirhin 12th-Jun-2012 06:19 pm (UTC)
This is full of awesome.

And so is the name of this organisation. :)
inachan89 12th-Jun-2012 06:31 pm (UTC)
Great article,happy that things are beginning to move in the right direction^^
rim1789 12th-Jun-2012 07:24 pm (UTC)
Very interesting and also touching... The man calling to know if he should kill himself and his child/children :(...And the end about the Tsunami.

I hope small changes will be made in the legislation
ocha_suki 12th-Jun-2012 11:49 pm (UTC)
what a touching story & article T.T
raising kid(s) were never easy for both mom and dad, moreover for a single parent no matter it is a single mom or a single dad. so, i do think both parties deserve to get the same support from gov't & society...hope they can pass the bill on the legilature ^^
pinkydbzfan 13th-Jun-2012 12:31 am (UTC)
Its great to see countries getting with it and helping single dads. I knew a guy here in the usa that was having issues becuase he was also having problems getting help with being a single dad. I also think that single dads are sexy :)
jae_bias_bitch 13th-Jun-2012 12:49 am (UTC)
idk...i'm attracted to single dad,Single-dad always seemed so loving and responsible..
ps: great article.
zjialing 13th-Jun-2012 01:58 am (UTC)
People should think about the dads too, not just moms..
Really proud
rainbow_yarn 13th-Jun-2012 09:38 am (UTC)
Good article. I can't believe anyone would have to feel the need to face that sort of decision about killing just himself or taking his child with him. I hope this movement pulls through.

Also, need to go watch that Dustin Hoffman movie now.
stole_away 14th-Jun-2012 03:54 am (UTC)
touching! i hope they get the support they deserve. it is not easy being a single parent, be it mother or father. so i believe they should get the support that single mothers are given as well
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