Jan 20, 2017

Don’t joke now! Japan getting a 4-day week?

Don’t joke now!  Japan getting a 4-day week? photo

This is the stuff of adult dreams isn’t it? The four-day week. Getting such a schedule often feels like a quest akin to searches for the Holy Grail and yet it can be the product of a reasoning childlike in its simplicity; Why don’t we all just … do it? Why indeed?! Well, one suspects its reluctance to catch on is something to do with a voracious consumer appetite fueling economic systems so competitive that days off are left spoilt by the irritating truth that when you’re spending the day in pyjamas someone else is out there trying to be better than you!

Of all the economies (When did we start referring to nations like this?) in the world to potentially embrace the four-day week, Japan seems one of the most unlikely. This kind of progressive, laid-back, socially conscious thinking is usually the preserve of somewhere in Scandinavia, where they seem comfortable with the concept of quality of life as not always equating to how fast the nation’s coffers are swelling.  

It was interesting then to catch a headline this week ...

“Japan Inc. moving toward 4-day work week”


If you read this and initially felt skeptic, you’re probably amongst the majority. Getting pressed into an already bursting train on the way to work of a Monday morning and then five frantic days later getting pressed onto the same train back home, everyone around you drunk (both literally and figuratively) on the prospect of two days off (well, for some), the idea of a four-day week in Japan seems to be just that, an idea. Intangible.  

One could also be forgiven for thinking that this hasn’t gotten anywhere close to a policy phase as there’s no mention of any quirky tagline or slogan that Japanese policy makers seem to have a penchant for when it comes to these things. Does anyone remember Premium Friday? That’s the one where we get let out of work early on the last Friday of each month (My! How you spoil us!). It’s not for working hard, mind you. It’s because we’re not spending enough money. Anyway, this worker has yet to see that come to fruition, even though it’s got a spiffy name attached.

However, reading the NIKKEI article reveals that having three days off per week is on the rise in Japan. In large part this seems to be seen as a workable solution for those employees with childcare/care for the elderly responsibilities. The four-day week keeps caregivers (in the non-professional sense) in work rather than them having to quit their jobs and thus placing even greater burden on what is already a straining Japanese labor force.  

The article goes on to site a 2015 Labor Ministry survey as revealing 8% of companies involved allow three or more days off a week. There are some big names mentioned in the article too, including fast food giant KFC Holdings which already has such a policy in place, and Yahoo Japan who are aiming for something similar in a few years.

We also learn of employers in Japan who will keep the 40-hour week (Is that the one that usually doesn’t include lunch?) but plan to make it four 10-hour shifts over four days rather than dragging things out over five. Something that might appeal to many (including this expat).  

On the surface then, this all sounds like promising and progressive thinking, doesn’t it? However, whether or not, in the case of actually reduced schedules, this corresponds with a reduction in salary/benefits isn’t brought up, but must be something to be contemplated before we all collectively start planning our long weekends away.

Another issue that this worker sees as a hurdle is the Japanese employees’ reluctance to actually stay away from the workplace for three days each week. For many of us this might sound like an absurd thing to contemplate … but it emphatically isn’t when we put it in the context of working life in Japan. Large swathes of the nation’s Monday-to-Friday workforce are driven (on a personal level) to going into the ‘office’ on weekends as it is. What chance then, that they would make it through three?  

Enough of this cynical thinking though lest we begin to sound like those jaded English teachers in Japan that pounce on a newbie who’s just realised that their working hours and contracted hour don’t correlate. The idea, or at the very least, the serious contemplation, of a four-day working week in Japan is something that should be nurtured, and if tried, given time to get settled so that others might have chance to try it themselves and assess the pros and cons. One thing that many expats might be able to agree on in respect to this, is that if working Japan could just cut back on the pointless meetings, bloated paperwork, and procedure, there must surely be room for it.  

Would you embrace a four-day week in Japan?

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  • helloalissa

    on Jan 21

    I hardly see this happening in the public education field as (Japanese) teachers are typically at the school for 10-12 hours a day during the week, and often on weekends for team sports they run. I'm part time, usually 3-4 work days a week & love it, but this is common for housewives. What I find surprising is the moms who still find time to work 20+ hours a week and make me feel lazy.

  • SalarymanJim

    on Jan 23

    No, can't see this catching on at all. The first time I came into the office on a Saturday, I thought I was going to welcomed like a hero by maybe one or two people that were in there. As it was, half of the staff were in anyway. The gave me a quick look and just got back to what they were doing. It was really depressing.