Tokyo government announces new name for maternity/paternity leave; hopes to change attitudes

In a lot of Japanese vocabulary words, if you hear the sound kyu, it means “rest.” For example, the word for “break” (as in “take a break”) is kyukei, and the one for “holiday” is kyujitsu.

But the kyu word we’re talking about today is kyugyo. Kyugyo is a handy compact expression for a leave of absence from work, and it’s written by combining the kanji character 休, meaning “rest,” with 業, meaning “an enterprise or undertaking,” and in many cases, by association, “work.”

▼ Kyugyo

Kyugyo is often combined with some other vocabulary word to specify the reason someone is taking leave, which is where we get the expression* **ikuji kyugyo. Ikuji means “child rearing,” and so ikuji kyugyo* is when a new mother or father takes parental leave.

▼ Ikuji kyugyo


Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike doesn’t like the sound of “ikuji kyugyo,” though, since individually, those kanji mean:

● 育 = raising

● 児 = child

● 休 = rest

● 業 = work

Koike is concerned that the etymology of ikuji kyugyo could be creating a sense that people who take maternity or paternity leave are “resting” while they’re not “working” in the office, in turn making it socially difficult for new parents to take the time off necessary to care for a newborn and maintain their own health as well. Because of that, Koike called for suggestions for a new term to describe parental leave, and after receiving some 8,800 submissions, the committee in charge of the project has decided on the word ikugyo.

▼ Ikugyo


As you can see, the word is formed by removing the middle portion of ikuji kyugyo, leaving just the kanji for “raising” and “work.” The intended implication is a reminder that mothers and fathers taking parental leave aren’t resting and relaxing, but instead involved in an important and involved enterprise of providing for a new member of both their family and society.

“Parental leave is not, by any means, a vacation,” Koike asserted in a speech on June 29 announcing the selection of ikugyo. “Child rearing is the important job of caring for the ones who will carry the future. In addition to “work,” gyo also has the meaning of expending effort to achieve something.”

The newly coined term itself has been getting largely positive reactions from Japanese Twitter commenters, such as:

“I hope women and men who were unable to take ‘ikuji kyugyo’ will be able to take ‘ikugyo!’”

“I think it’s very progressive to get rid of the ‘rest’ part.’”

“It’s a short and sweet phrase, and I think it’s lovely.”

“Something’s name can have a big effect on it’s image, so I think this sort of thing is important.”

“Naming-wise, I think this is a good choice.”

At the same time, some have also expressed skepticism at how much increase in parental leave being taken will come from a name change alone.

The Tokyo metropolitan government plans to use the ikugyo terminology in awareness campaigns and public service activities, but has not made any direct pledge to retire ikuji kyugyo entirely from official documents and statements.

Sources: Abema TimesTele Asa NewsTwitter

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