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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Raising smiling fathers : the construction of masculinity in Japanese nonprofit organizations that promote engaged parenting Koike, Evan T.


This dissertation presents my research on the messaging and effectiveness of Japanese nonprofit organizations and community groups that encourage Japanese men to participate actively in their families’ daily activities, including child care and housework, and to perform more empathetic, emotive masculinities. Drawing connections between many Japanese men’s reluctance to engage with their families and the gender inequality that pervades Japanese society, these groups view men’s detachment from their children as a significant contributor to Japan’s declining birthrate, which threatens the future of the country’s workforce. The organizations’ leadership acknowledges the challenges facing Japanese women, who must simultaneously work in the market economy and accomplish most domestic labor and whose double burden affects the decisions of Japanese couples to give birth to fewer children than in previous generations. In response to this demographic crisis, nongovernmental organizations and community-based gatherings of young fathers, guided by the philosophy of such nonprofits as Fathering Japan, portray parenting as a rewarding, enjoyable experience. Fathering Japan’s effort to “increase the number of smiling fathers” appeals to many fathers, whose attachment to paying jobs and to the paradigm of men as primary providers has weakened since the collapse of Japan’s postwar economic bubble. According to my 13-month ethnographic research in the Greater Tokyo Area, the parenting groups that promote active fathering also provide members with comradery often absent from relationships mediated by money and paid labor. However, despite these organizations’ ideals and members’ mutual support, some participating fathers cannot involve themselves fully in their families’ affairs because of structural barriers posed by the mandatory, excessive overtime required by many Japanese employers, some of which—ironically—sponsor events hosted by Fathering Japan. Other participants become too fixated on fathering groups’ enjoinder to enjoy fathering and then select for themselves from a position of masculine privilege only those parenting practices that they find entertaining and relaxing. Consequently, nonprofit organizations and local groups focused on fathering must continuously adapt their message to changing social circumstances in ways that may sometimes seem rhetorically inconsistent or that may eventually become ineffective.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International