Oh Baby! Pregnancy, Maternity, and Child Care Leave in Japan
The inspiration behind this post is a June 4 article from Japan Today titled, ‘Pregnancy rotas’ add to working women’s woes in Japan.
“Pregnancy rotas” are prevalent in sectors that struggle to find and retain employees, like the daycare industry.
And since the daycare/childcare industry is where I work, I’m sharing my personal experience, research, and links to relevant sources.
(Scroll down to skip straight to the info about maternity leave, paid childcare leave, and paternity leave in Japan.)
To be perfectly honest, my experience is nothing like the one in the linked article. But, I was afraid that things would end up that way considering the timing of my announcement.
Literally the day after I signed my new contract, I found out I was pregnant. Which would be exciting news, right?
Except after years of trying, I just accepted my loss and said screw it.
I went to mainland China for the first time. My husband and I went to Taiwan 2 months later. Then we had a July trip for Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh booked.
I also I booked a December cruise for my mom, sister, and me. (Still need to put my $400 credit to use.)
Pay for invasive surgery that might not even work? Nah, I’m cool. No need to dwell on something I can’t change, right?
So, with this YOLO mindset, you can see why I was shocked to find out I was pregnant, especially after I just started a new job.
On top of that, I was the replacement teacher! (Seriously!)
How could I leave after just getting to know my new students?
How could I stay?
Should I quit?
Do I need to help find a replacement teacher?
I had so many questions. But, it was only after an outbreak of chickenpox in my own classroom, that I decided to come “clean” to my headmistress. And after consulting with the head office, I made my choice to stay up until the start of maternity leave in mid-December.
I spent October/November getting my kids ready for the winter concert and choreographing two dance routines and designing stage props.
Although pregnant daycare workers seem to get the short end of the stick in Japan (if we rely solely on news articles), being a teacher worked very much in my favor as a working pregnant woman.
I could rest during my students’ nap time. If I needed fresh air, I could send my kids outside for playtime. And most, importantly, I could schedule toilet time whenever I wanted to!
In the end, things worked out very well for me. After a year off, I made sure to express my intention to go back to work.
Last December I took over for a teacher (on a part-time schedule). I now work semi-full time (時短, jitan, a shortened work day).
Now, that all was possible due to two factors:
1. My husband took paternity leave (more on that below)
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2. I got my daughter into daycare.
Even though I worked in a childcare facility, I was wait listed! I taught for several months at a sister school, bringing my daughter a few days a week. Then in April, I returned to my “home school” and my daughter went to day care 5 days a week.
I was lucky— it’s difficult for babies 0-1 years old to get into daycare because of the teacher:baby ratio and the overall shortage of daycare across Japan.
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First Day of Daycare! 👶🏼🏫👶🏼🏫👶🏼🏫👶🏼🏫👶🏼 Somehow the monster made it through her first day of daycare. There was lots of crying, of course, but I managed to resist the urge to go over and check on her! 👶🏼 She’s the smallest of the class so she spent all day in the baby carrier. The daycare little ones went outside, and it was fun to see her in a new environment.
I’ll end this post with a few tips and links to resources for working while pregnant, and taking maternity, paternity, and child care leave in Japan.
Tips for working while pregnant:
Know. Your. Rights.
You can adjust your work schedule to avoid commuting during peak hours. You can leave early/arrive later to go to doctor’s appointments.
Sure, some of your co-workers or bosses might grumble and complain, but don’t worry about them. Focus on your health and the well-being of your child.
Especially if you are a full-time salaried employee. You can’t be fired, but do keep an eye out for maternity harassment (マタハラ/mata hara), which may be done to make you quit. And if you quit, you might be losing out on benefits.
If someone is stepping on your toes, document everything and be prepared to take your battle to your local Labor Standards Bureau (労働基準局/Roudou Kijunkyoku).
DO NOT BOTHER WITH HELLO WORK. THEY WILL DIRECT YOU TO THE NEAREST LABOR STANDARDS BUREAU BECAUSE IT’S A WORKPLACE DISPUTE.
I know this because I had a non-related issue with a previous employer.
Tips For Maternity Leave, Paternity Leave, and Child Care Leave in Japan
Know The Schedule
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Maternity leave and child care leave are two completely different things in Japan!
What’s Maternity Leave?
Maternity leave (産休/sankyuu) is the period consisting of 6 weeks before giving birth (産前休業/sanzen kyuugyou) and 8 weeks after givng birth (産後休業/sango kyuugyou).
Legally, you can’t work after birth until 8 weeks have passed (6 weeks if you have a letter from your doctor).
Find out your maternity leave dates here (link in Japanese).
What’s Childcare Leave?
Childcare leave for women (commonly 育休 | ikukyuu; short for 育児休業 | ikuji kyuugyou or 育児休暇 | ikuji kyuuka*) is the period starting the day after maternity leave ends up until your child is 12 months old. This may be extended until your child is 18 months old in special circumstances (unable to find daycare, for example).
*Technically speaking, 育児休業 refers to the legally designated time period for taking care of a child less than one year old.
育児休暇 refers to an employee using designated paid (or unpaid) days to take care of a child less than one year old. Some employers allow workers to apply for leave for children under three years of age. Check with your employer to be sure.
The Japanese government is trying to get more men to take paternity leave. Dads wishing to take childcare leave should refer to this official “Ikumen* Project” website for general information about paternity leave (link in Japanese):
*Ikumen, by the way is a play on ikemen, a word for an attractive man. So ikumen are basically men… being present in their child’s lives and doing actual parenting…
But anyway, instead of commodifying fatherhood, let’s just make it easier for men to take paternity leave!
@sneaky_smol on Instagram has 2 very informative posts on paternity leave in Japan and obstacles men may encounter when taking paternity leave:
Parents can take advantage of the ママ・パパ育休プラス制度(mama papa ikukyuu purasu seido). Childcare leave can be extended to when a child is 14 months old if both mother and father intend to take (育児休業) ikuji kyuugyou leave.
Be Prepared To Do Lots Of Paperwork
I can’t even remember all the paperwork that my husband and I had to fill out in the months before and after the monster was born. And I even had to fill out something last month about adjusting my pension payments. Keep copies of everything that you submit, too.
ANYONE Can Take Maternity Leave
Regardless if you’re a full-time, contract, part-time, arubaito, or full-time salaried worker with benefits, every woman is entitled to maternity leave.
Maternity leave is also available for you even if you had a miscarriage (provided you’re pregnant for more than 12 weeks) and if you’ve had a stillbirth.
This is the law.
Now, (paid) maternity and (paid) childcare leave… that depends on if you’ve how long you’ve paid into the unemployment scheme (for more than 1 year…)
Have Savings On Hand
Maternity leave benefits (出産手当金/shussan teatekin): You get ⅔ of your monthly salary for the duration of your maternity leave, paid 2-4 months after birth.
Child care leave benefits (育児休業給付金/ikuji kyuugyou kyuufukin): you get ⅔ of your monthly salary for the first 6 months of child care leave, then it drops to ½ for the remainder of your child care leave.
To calculate how much you could receive in maternity and child care leave payments, use this calculator (link in Japanese).
I will update this post accordingly when I come across useful information!