“We speak of cool ideas such as a gender-equal society and men's child-rearing, but they are unwelcome ideas for children,” the 54-year-old executive acting secretary general of the LDP told an audience in the city of Miyazaki.
Children under 2 “need an environment in which they can stay with their mothers,” he said.
Hagiuda acknowledged there is little data on whether fathers are unfit to parent young children. But he said infants “must want moms, no matter how you look at it.”
“I think it is a bit strange if they choose dads,” he said.
His remarks reflect Japanese reality. According to the BBC, Japanese fathers spend less time doing housework and taking care of their children than men in much of the world. In the United States, men spend about three hours a day helping out with children and chores. In Japan, it's one hour, according to the BBC. The average Japanese father spends just 15 minutes a day with his children. Just 2 percent of Japanese men take the paternity leave they are entitled to.
Hagiuda also acknowledged raising children is hard work, and Japan needs to “create a system to care for mothers.”
His remarks came on the heels of several other sexist comments from Japanese lawmakers. LDP's Kanji Kato, 72, said this month that newlyweds should have at least three children. The remark prompted one female LDP lawmaker to accuse Kato of “sexual harassment.” Yukio Edano, who heads up a different Japanese political party, called the statements “intolerable.”
Hagiuda's remarks also sparked controversy.
Sumire Hamada of the Asia-Japan Women's Resource Center called them “rude.”
“What happened to the government’s pledge to build a society where men can participate in child-rearing?” she asked, according to the Japan Times. “These comments overturn what the government has said, and I’m sure many fathers have been angered.”
Tetsuya Ando, founder of the Fathering Japan organization and father of three, took issue, too.
“When he said children under 3 like mothers more than fathers, that’s unacceptable,” Ando told the Japan Times. “That kind of remark puts pressure on working mothers to stay at home while removing fathers’ rights to rear children.”
Japan has often struggled to incorporate mothers into the workplace. Things are so bad that in 2013, the BBC asked, is Japan “the worst developed country for working mothers?”
Women say the long hours, part of Japanese culture, make raising a child nearly impossible. Studies by the government show that this is the main reason that young mothers leave their jobs. “If you want to keep working you have to forget about your children. You have to just devote yourself to the company,” Nobuko Ito, a lawyer, told the BBC.
Before she had children, she would sometimes work from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. She left her corporate law job after giving birth. “I can't do this. It's impossible,” she said.
Even women who want to work face obstacles. In parts of Japan, there is also a severe child-care shortage. The Tokyo government says about 20,000 children are on waiting lists for child-care spots.
The lack of women in the workplace is a big problem for Japan. The country's population is shrinking, and it is in need of qualified workers. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made increasing the number of women in the workplace a top priority.