Why Frats in Japan Hurt Men Too

“Is it a crime to have children?” Glen Wood, a Canadian banker and single father in Japan asks.

​Wood’s career was flourishing. After graduating from the Wharton School in 2001, he worked at Mizuho Securities, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank. In July 2012, he became Global Head of Sales at investment bank Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFJ) Morgan Stanley Securities in Tokyo. Career-wise, Wood appeared to have had it all — until he applied for paternity leave.

In 2015, Wood’s partner became pregnant with their son in Nepal. Although Wood had applied for paternity leave from MUFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, the company rejected his applications. He booked a flight from Japan when he heard his son was born prematurely and was in a life-threatening situation. He took unpaid leave to care for his son Alexander, who was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). 

​When Wood returned to his office in March 2016, his company did not welcome him back with open arms. The company required DNA blood samples from him to prove he was the father, according to Timothy Langley, who represented Wood at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ). The company also cut his pay and gave him much fewer and menial tasks. “Most men in Japan who take paternity leave get harassed or fired,” Wood says. He suffered from depression and took sick leave. In October 2016, after refusing to accept a dramatic demotion and drastic reduction of pay, the company put Wood on administrative leave. In 2017, he sued his company for patahara — the Japanese term for paternity harassment — as a civil suit.

​ MUFJ Morgan Stanley Securities denies Wood’s claims. The company argues they reduced Wood’s responsibilities because of hairyo — “consideration”— given his new role as a father. (The company took away 95% of Wood’s job unilaterally and without even asking Wood how he was doing.) But Wood argues that such consideration was their punishment to him for taking paternity leave which is traditionally viewed as treasonous behavior. This type of hairyo is a broadly seen action taking towards women returning from maternity leave. Thus we see virtually no women in management positions because they have been side-lined after having children. Anyone who puts family ahead of the company is “not a faithful soldier” and can “no longer be trusted.” Consideration should be a mutual agreement, he says. “Moving meetings from 5 p.m. to 10 a.m. so parents can pick their children up— that’s hairyo.” MUFJ Morgan Stanley Securities’s motto is: “To be the most trusted financial institution in the world," Wood said at the FCCJ conference, drawing attention to the contrast between the company’s image and its reality. In 2018, Saburo Araki, current CEO of MUFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, pledged to eliminate harassment in his company, admitting its prevalence. The company’s issues, however, indicates a larger, more systemic issue, which stems from its culture. 

 ​Japanese companies’ demands for loyalty may stem from Japan’s glorification of self-sacrifice. Japanese society praises gaman —“bearing pain or suffering until it is unbearable.” One is expected to put in long hours of work and ask for few — if any — rewards in return. Words such as hara-kiri and seppuku originate from the samurais, who committed suicide to avoid losing face. If one does not conform, then one falls victim to murahachibu — “ostracism.” Although each company culture has roots of its own, Japan’s history of self-sacrifice and order reflects the pervasive mindset that the team supersedes the self. Therefore, Wood’s case illuminates deeper, systemic and cultural roots.

Paternity leave is encouraged by law but discouraged in practice. Men in Japan have the longest paid paternity leave (over 30 weeks) on paper among OECD countries, according to a June 2019 UNICEF report, “Are the world’s richest countries family friendly?” But this legal right does not make paternity leave an easy option. Less than 6% of men in Japan take paternity leave. “Men are properties of their companies,” says Wood. Masculinity and company loyalty are synonymous in Japan. To leave the company for the family is to be “less masculine” under the standards of Japan Inc, which can put a strain on family lives. (Women, too, fall victim to parental leave.)

The Japanese government is taking steps to promote paternity leave. The Ikumen Project-- the  “Childcare for Fathers Project”-- encourages parental leave, especially for fathers. On its website, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare provides information about the law regarding paternity leave, events to learn about the policies, and external resources fathers could access. On their page, “Why do men take parental leave today?” explains the benefits of using parental leave. The young and charismatic Minister of Environment of Japan, Shinjiro Koizumi, who announced he would take paternity leave, criticized his country’s stigma toward paternity leave as  “rigid” and “old,” after the ruling and opposition parties both questioned him. This movement of fathers demanding rights to family life can create a society in which more mothers can work and men assume equal responsibility as their spouses. 

Glen Wood’s case highlights the issues and necessary steps to facilitate parental leave. ​Wood proposes three main changes to prevent and eliminate existing harassment. The first is to create a zero-tolerance policy for harassment, especially in the workplace. His second proposal is to “create a policy to protect workers.” Claiming he was harassed actually led to the boss to further harassing Wood. Therefore, Wood says the key to eliminating workplace harassment is for companies to outsource a hotline and/or provide a third party investigation for employees who face harassment and other company-related issues so that they are confidential, unbiased, and protect the victims. Uphold and follow universal human rights in the workplace. “No one should be the property of the company,” Wood says. “Children have a right to know both their parents.”

When Japanese companies, and by extension, society, operate like stereotypical frats, they hurt men, too. What if we created a more inclusive version of a fraternity? If society reshaped its notion of masculinity-- one that protects and promotes paternity leave and embraces the right to spend time with children-- it could solve many of its challenges. This problem isn’t just Japanese. Globally, women still shoulder many responsibilities that may not be expected of men. This system and culture can change, one lawsuit — and one paternity leave — at a time.