In a first (but not a last!) for riarumi, we spoke with Koki Mizutani, a business strategy consultant who’s currently on paternity leave, in order to help raise his child and support his wife at home. We spoke to Koki about his decision to take paternity leave in a society where it’s still not really accepted as the norm, his thoughts from a male perspective on gender equality and how he hopes to raise his young son.
Who is the riarumi?
My name is Koki Mizutani, and I’m currently living in Kanagawa, Japan. I love playing and watching sports, traveling all over the world, eating and drinking with friends. Recently I’ve gotten addicted to barbecues! On weekends I usually invite some friends over to my place and we enjoy spending time together.
You work as a Business Strategy Consultant at Accenture. Could you tell us about your work and life there?
I started my career with Accenture just after graduating from university, and now four years have passed since then. My job is to support our corporate clients mainly in the retail / consumer goods industries, to expand or transform their business.
At Accenture, I’ve been engaged in lots of projects both in and out of the country. Of course, it’s not always easy work and from time to time I have a hard time. But so far, I really enjoy this job and a lot of the challenges it presents.
You’re currently on paternity leave from Accenture to help raise your baby son. What prompted you to take paternity leave?
I’ve always liked kids, maybe in part because my mother works as a paediatric nurse. So since I was a student, I’d been thinking “I want to take paternity leave in the future.” During shukatsu (job hunting in the final year of university), when the interviewer gave me a chance to ask him “one last question,” my question was always, “is it possible for men to take paternity leave here?” In the end, the only company to answer with a firm “Yes” to this question was Accenture, so I decided to join them. Needless to say, there were other reasons and motivations to choose my job, but this point was definitely one of the deciding factors.
Do you feel there’s still a stigma in Japan attached to men taking paternity leave? Were there any difficult experiences for you associated with taking it?
I wouldn’t say there’s a stigma, but there’s definitely a kind of stereotype. Especially in traditional Japanese companies, there’s still this general atmosphere, a kind of “men-stay-at-work” mindset, and male employees are forced to refrain from taking paternity leave, despite their desire to take it.
Luckily, my boss and colleagues are very open-minded, so I could gain their understanding. Also, in consulting work, we build a new team on each project and shuffle the members frequently. It’s not uncommon for us to take long vacations between projects and I think this work style was definitely a big factor that made it easier to take paternity leave.
Having said that, I actually spent a lot of time wondering about taking paternity leave, for quite a long period. Generally speaking, foreign consulting companies are more meritocratic and demanding. I’d been wondering if I can retain my skills and the trust I’d built up, even after a long absence. To be honest, I’m still a little anxious about that.
Apart from raising your child, do you assist in other ways around the home, for example cooking or cleaning?
Basically we share all chores. These days, I prepare every meal, every day. As I used to live by myself for a while, I think I’m good at cooking. In turn, my wife is mainly in charge of cleaning and washing. She doesn’t feel satisfied with the standard to which I wash up and so I soon got fired. (laughs) Since then, we share tasks in our respective areas of expertise.
What has been your proudest or most encouraging or most memorable moment so far in life?
When I was 21 years old, I visited Greece to see my Greek best friend and we travelled around the country for a month together. We went from island to island by car and ferry, talking about various topics. As well as spectacular views, history and local foods, the conversations I had with my mentor for life were memorable moments for me, where I learnt diverse values and perspectives.
What has/have been your most difficult or disheartening moment(s) so far in life, and how did you deal with it/them?
I’d been doing Karate since I was eight years old, practicing in the Karate club every day from junior high school until university. But when I made the trip to Greece, I retired and left the university team. It was really a tough decision for me to stop doing Karate, something that I’d spent more than 10 years practicing. I even disappointed many people’s expectations.
At the time, I couldn’t deal with it but finally I managed to shift my feeling, and decided to think in terms of, “I’m not going to regret this decision, I’m going to try new things and make effort.” To this day, the disheartening experience I felt at that time is now kind of like the engine for my life.
Could you tell us a bit about your partner? How did you meet and what is a good marriage in your definition?
I met my partner when I was a senior student at university. One of my friends showed me her picture and gave me her e-mail address, saying like “She and you would definitely be a good couple.” After exchanging e-mails for a few weeks, I met her for the first time and had lunch together, just the two of us. Then we started going out, and finally got married after our three-year relationship.
To say what the definition of a good marriage is is a bit difficult … For us, it’s to keep a healthy feeling of distance from each other. Even after getting married, we create free time for ourselves and enjoy our own friendships.
Is there a gender equality imbalance in Japan?
Unfortunately, I think there is. In Japan, it’s a fact that when you get married and have a child, women often drop out of their work or at least reduce their work volume to devote their time to housework and child-raising on weekdays. It’s OK if both the husband and wife are happy about it, but I feel it’s a bit strange in terms of a system and culture, that only men can strongly emphasise that there’s “no way to reduce work”. And on the other hand, women are forced to do either that or give up on their career. I think men also need to share the burden a little more.
Do you feel there’s anything women themselves could be doing?
In my opinion, perhaps “not being a perfectionist.” If women think “the husband is helpless” or “doing by myself is much faster and better,” these ways of thinking will promote and facilitate men’s apathy to housework and child-raising and the “men-stay-at-work” mindset.
Of course, men including myself need to take the initiative to make an effort at home too … It takes time to improve at something that one is not good at.
What kind of man do you want your son to grow into (particularly in terms of his attitudes towards women) and how will you as a father help him be that kind of man?
I’ve never thought about my son’s attitudes towards women, but for now I would say, of course, a gentle, decisive and reliable man. As a father, I will encourage him to think and decide by himself as much as possible, by giving him important information to make his decisions, for instance, by telling him carefully the possibilities and risks that lie ahead when he tries or does not try something hard.
At Riarumi, we usually end with an inspiring quote. Are there any quotes or philosophies on life that you particularly like and would like to share with readers?
Japanese people often say, “Beer after work is tasty.” When I taught the saying to my Greek friends, they said, “Beer is always tasty.”
So, put together, a sense of achievement after the culmination of continuous effort, and a general contentedness in daily life. I try to live with both perspectives.
If you could say one thing to the young men of Japan (in terms of gender equality), what would it be?
In terms of gender equality or the relationship between a husband and wife, I think there is more than one answer. Not pressing your opinion on others, but rather creating a relationship where both husband and wife feel equality, would be more important than anything.
In that sense, paternity leave is a good opportunity for a couple to share domestic work and child-raising duties, as well as to have time to talk each other. I understand there are some difficulties to actually taking it for real, but I hope that the young men of Japan think more positively about it.