“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Colossians 3:21
The Japanese have an old saying that goes, “Jishin, kaminari, kaji, oyaji” (地震雷火事親父), which translated, means literally, “earthquake, thunder, fire, father.” The implicit concept behind this proverb is that we should fear our fathers just as we are naturally inclined to fear certain forces in nature. This was the manner in which fathers have been traditionally viewed in Japan, but the Japanese government is now determined to change this age-old perception. With this objective in mind, in 2010 the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare launched the Ikumen Project with the purpose of cultivating a radically new father figure for generations to come.
Over the centuries, the Japanese father’s primary role was to provide financial security for his family. In modern times, this stereotype was embodied by the salaryman (sarari-man), or white-collar worker, who labored long hours while trying to climb the corporate ladder. This commitment, of course, required extended absences from the home and, consequently, placed an unduly large burden on the mother who was left alone to raise the children and manage the household. These traditional role patterns made it very difficult for married women who wanted to develop their own careers. As a result, many women became increasingly disenchanted with such an unequal division of roles, encouraging many to delay getting married or choosing not to marry at all. Japan’s birth rate, therefore, suffered a precipitous decline, prompting the government to intervene in the form of the Ikumen Project.
The term ‘ikumen” is actually a newly coined term combining the word “ikuji” (childcare) and “ikemen” (hunk; good-looking) to capture the vague meaning of an “attractive man who does it all.” Since the English word “men” is also part of ikumen, that adds another subtle nuance to this increasingly popular expression. The Ikumen Project is basically a government sponsored advertising campaign to reinvent the role of the father. Instead of the traditional distant, workaholic dad, an image of a “new” type of father is proactively promoted through newspapers, magazines, commercials and even mangas. These fathers are smiling, handsome, caring and stylishly dressed. They are typically portrayed as happily helping with household chores and spending meaningful time with their children. Unlike fathers in the past, ikumen delight in cooking, housework and playing with their kids so the overtaxed mom can have more time for other important matters. Through a carefully coordinated campaign, ikumen have become the new super heroes in Japan as they strive to nurture the next generation of workers who will in time deliver Japan from its present economic doldrums. However, some men are starting to protest such expectations as being unrealistic and complain of “ikumen illness,” as they try to meet heavy demands at both work and at home.
The important role of the father is under siege or being redefined in many societies as mores continually change through various cultural influences. While it is taken for granted that the vast majority of fathers love their children and are filled with good intentions, it is not an easy role to consistently fill 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Perhaps the best summary in the Bible of what a dad should aim for is succinctly provided in Ephesians 6:4, where both a restriction and a responsibility are commanded. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” While ikumen are a carefully constructed ideal, God’s blueprint for the father is a man who strives with all his might to help his children walk in the ways of God. Such a man should be admired, not feared.