TOKYO -- On a May weekend at a Tokyo elementary school, 11-year-old Haruka Sanada took part in the school's annual field day -- a sprint, to be specific.
Cheering her on with shouts of "Gambare!" ("Come on!") were two "temporary dads" registered with Otosan ("dad") Bank, a service based in Fujisawa, southwest of Tokyo. Otosan Bank sends people to families in need of a little extra fatherly support. For Haruka's big day, one of the dads was in charge of shooting video, while the other brought homemade bento boxed lunches.
Whether it's cooking, playing with the kids, or attending school events, Japanese fathers these days are expected to do more home duty than their own fathers typically did. For those feeling pressed for time -- or perhaps not quite up to the task -- new services are emerging to help.
Otosan Bank's website has a database of volunteer fathers. It is a matching service and users pay no fees. Profiles of the volunteers highlight their skills, everything from carpentry to paper crafts to cooking kiritanpo nabe, a type of hot pot dish popular in northern Japan.
Yasuo Toyoda, the man who brought bentos to Haruka's field day, runs a Brazilian jujitsu school for children. He woke up at 5 a.m. for Haruka's event and prepared the bentos, which had brown rice balls and fried chicken. "I basically love to see children having fun," the 40-year-old said.
During the lunch break, he and the other dad on call, Hideaki Kayano, joined Haruka, her mother, Miyuki, Haruka's grandparents and her mother's friend for the meal. "They've made this such a lively day for us. I like it better when there's more people around," Miyuki said.
Otosan Bank is always looking for volunteers. Chiaki Yoshihiro, who founded and operates the service, said women can also be "dads," although all applicants must pass an interview.
Welks, a Tokyo advertising agency that specializes in help-wanted ads for child care professionals, is receiving more requests for one-day jobs, such as attending parent-teacher meetings on behalf of fathers.
Kidsline, in central Tokyo's Minato Ward, is seeing more men register with its online matching service for baby sitters. A 33-year-old who offers only his given name, Jun, is one of the company's more popular sitters. His specialty is painting pictures with children.
On a recent day, he let a 7-year-old and 4-year-old loose with watercolors. Sheets of paper were spread across the floor of their home.
"Come here and look! It's a beautiful color," said one child. "I love it! Pretty color," Jun replied.
"If you start by saying, 'Let's paint a picture,' then you'll end up getting pictures as adults know them, but I want them to enjoy [art] more freely," Jun said, adding that he is interested in bringing out children's creativity.
The children's 38-year-old mother, whose husband is on assignment overseas, said she is very impressed with Jun. "I tend to think about how I would have to clean up the mess afterward, and that thought stops me from letting them do anything like this," she said.
Another man who baby-sits for Kidsline, Kazuma Yoshino, is well known for his stamina. He is often called on when the activities are more physical -- tree climbing, dodge ball, basketball, skiing -- he can keep up with the most energetic kids for hours on end.
"I love my father more, but I like him, too, because he can do a lot of different kinds of things with us"A satisfied 8-year-old Kidsline customer
"I have experience living alone in the mountains, so I'm also good in the outdoors," said Yoshino, who is a martial arts fighter and trainer by day.
On one recent sunny day, Yoshino was at the park with two brothers from noon to sunset.
"I love my father more, but I like him, too, because he can do a lot of different kinds of things with us," one of the boys, aged 8, said of Yoshino.
According to their mother, the boys' father is often busy with work on weekends.
"It's sometimes daunting to play with the kids outside all day because it's tiring," she said. "My baby sitter relieves me of that [responsibility] and lets me take a fresh look at child-rearing as something fun."