Jan 8, 2016
The first week of 2016 has kicked off with stories that run from the seemingly ‘no brainer’ - Tokyo police urge partiers not to sleep in traffic, The Asahi Shimbun. Down to the thoroughly depressing - Rationing hits Japan’s nappy trade as Chinese demand soars, Financial Times. Picking up with the cutesville - Soccer player most popular job choice for boys in Japan, chef favored by girls: survey, The Mainichi.
Today though, we want to try and come to terms with the bombshell dropped by a number of news sources over the last couple of days that, Japanese pay least attention to owed vacation days (KYODO).
Well, stop the press!!! Didn’t we know this already? In fact, it was only last year that the Abe administration tried to get stronger with companies, wanting them to force/encourage workers to start using more of their vacation days in a bid to prevent the culture of karoshi, or death by overwork. Have people forgotten already?!
It seems though, that new information has come to light, from the rather bizarre source of online holiday booking giant Expedia Inc. Now, I know what you’re thinking, Aren’t Expedia going to tell everyone that they’re not taking enough holidays?’. Well, you would think so. Actually, none of the news articles we’ve read specify the source beyond Expedia Inc, but perhaps they are referring to Expedia's 2015 Vacation Deprivation Study, about which you can find the press release here.
According to the press release, of 20 paid vacation days offered to Japanese workers, on average, 8 remain unused (less than I had assumed, if I’m honest). This puts Japan in second place, behind South Korea; 15 days offered, 9 unused. Countries whose residents use all of their vacation days include; Brazil, U.A.E, the UK, France and Germany. In fact, Europe seems to come out top in either having the healthiest perspective on work, or the laziest!
What’s the expat-in-Japan perspective on all of this? A common reaction seems to be disbelief that Japanese workers would allow their employers to ‘screw them over’ in such a way. One assumes that this isn’t the sentiment of those of us in the eikaiwa racket! But the vacation days are there, aren’t they? They’re being offered for people to take. So, why aren’t they taking them?
Ever the polite bunch, one common reason for Japanese not taking vacation days seems to be that doing so would inconvenience other co-workers. The question here though, is do you, expats in Japan, feel the same? I guess Expedia is hoping you don’t!
Join the discussion. Leave your comments below.
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I was asked to talk at an international association forum on work-life balance as a representative of Canada. The young people were so surprised there is no homework during the summer holidays in Canada, and Canadian students don't clean their own schools. Canadians I have worked with are very much union minded and take all they can get from their employers, no remorse. I am a bit of a workaholic, hence I am still in Japan. Not taking days off is ingrained in the culture here, but despite my workaholic tendencies, I'd take all my days off but feel bad and bring back sweets to share. I used to work for AEON. I know that there are no spares, and others have to work twice as hard for the same pay when one member is off on vacation. With Japanese, it seems you mustn't take all your vacation days off if you want to be promoted and seen as a team player. It's a cultural thing that I can see taking holding from preschool on, where you get praised (sometimes a prize in front of an assembly) for not missing a day (never mind if you have a cold or your grandmother just died). For those with kids, you may notice the fervour with which Japanese care about attendance! (training for working life)
@maynestacy Thanks for your comment. Where I come from, all workers expect that their colleagues will be using most (if not, all) of their holidays, and there are usually no complaints about it, including from management (as they will certainly be taking their holidays too). Even on a daily basis, work finishes at, say, 5 pm and not a minute after (unless there really is work that needs to be finished). Over here, I'm starting to feel a little guilty about taking days off, but not enough to stop me! In my early years in Japan, all holidays were fixed anyway, so there was no debate or problems as a result. Maybe I'm wrong, but over here there seems to be an almost childish approach, like, who can be seen to be staying in the office the longest to impress the people upstairs, even though there's not necessarily work to be done. That said, going back to early work experiences in Japan, the company structure would create work where it wasn't needed. As for the 'union minded' point; I understand. Back home, for many people, as soon as you start a job, management is almost seen as the enemy and they have to earn the respect of the workers, as much as the other way round. It's the same as the teacher/student relationship in schools. Here in Japan, the same level of respect seems to be given automatically from 'the workers', without questioning it. That's how it seems to me, anyway.
I work as an ALT. I'd be surprised if the teachers I work with even take as many holidays as the survey indicates. It's funny, a lot of people where I come from become teachers exactly for the long holidays. They'd have a really hard time over here.
@DaveJpn Thanks for commenting. Mmm. I hear that Japanese teachers do spent a great deal of time in school - evenings, weekends, holidays .. the whole bit. I guess the question is, is that something to be celebrated or not?