When I first arrived in Japan, I taught at an English school that had fixed holidays. My initial feeling about this was shaded with disappointment; I was used to the system of being given a bunch of days at the start of a contract, and making use of them as and when.
The ‘no choice’ system is not without it’s perks though. At that school the holidays corresponded to Golden Week, Obon, and New Years. As such, with most of the nation off work at the same time, that sense of relief when you walked out on the last day, was amplified by the collective weight of a nation feeling largely the same way. You’re on holiday, and so is everyone else; deal with it, management!! The ‘no choice’ system also comes with the privilege of knowing that you’ve got holiday coming, knowing that nothing can take it away, and that thus you can plan, you know, your actual life! Of course, the massive bummer with the ‘no choice’ system is that travel agencies, hotels, airlines, and anyone that makes money off people going on holiday, will charge human rights abusing sums of money in order that you might have fun. For the expat who wants to get home and see family, it can be a hard pill to swallow. Depending on your salary, a fews days with the family could ruin you financially for a good few months.
Next up, I moved into the ALT gig. Similar to teachers back home (not in Japan), as a dispatch ALT I got a lot of time off work. Literally. The company I worked for was staffed by nice people forced to implement rules that were the brainchild of a scumbag. Summers were long! Hell, yea! They were also unpaid! Hell, no! In fact, you weren’t even employed. The same for Christmas, and that bit between school years around the end of March. So, ALTs were left with the conundrum of having a whole bunch of time (particularly in summer), and not enough money to do anything with it.
My situation as a salaryman has lended a new nuance to the taking of holidays in Japan; confusion and guilt.
It’s probably a well-known foible of office life in Japan, that people don’t like to take holidays. It might sound inexplicable to Western ears, but there it is. It’s become something of an issue, with the government stepping in at some point last year to encourage (or force) employees to get workers to make use of their holidays. Perhaps the following might provide further insight into this.
The other day, I had a conversation with a more senior member of staff (who works in a different section) that went something like this:
Senior: Our bosses have told us that we must take a week’s holiday sometime in August.
Me: Wow! That’s great!
Senior: I’m not sure I agree.
Senior: Well, if everyone takes a week off, the department can’t function.
Me: Mmm, perhaps. (Inside I’m saying, Who gives a f#$k?! The bosses have ordered you! Take it!).
Senior: I think 2 or 3 days added to a weekend is enough, isn’t it?
Another conversation with some salaryman types that I sometime hang out with of a weekend.
Me: I’m thinking about going overseas somewhere for a holiday.
Them: You’re always going away!
Me: Urr, I don’t know. Am I?
Them: Yea. For us, a holiday means being and home, and doing work from there.
Me: I’m in the wrong country.
Despite my initial scoffs of disapproval and condescending remarks directed at Japan’s culture of not taking time off work, I find myself going a bit too salaryman myself. Firstly, it now takes me a few weeks to work up the courage to ask for time off. Secondly, when I get it, I feel bad about having gotten it (That’s it. I’m done for! The boss is going to have me cleaning the toilets when I get back!). Thirdly, I feel like I have to put double the amount of work in before I my holiday time starts. Fourthly, I’m never sure that I’ll be able to take a holiday again. Ever! But then you come back, settle things with some omiyage, and after a couple of days, you’re back in the saddle and wondering if that poolside cocktail was actually real. And then you start sweating about taking your next holiday. It’s a cyclical thing.
The absurdity about all this, is that it’s just in my head. The boss has never had a problem with me taking time off. It’s my legal right to have it (I think). The government wants me to take it (the travel industry even more so), and nobody is going to lose their life if I do. But I’m a salaryman now. Part of the collective. The group rules, and individuals cast asunder. And, by necessity, the group tends to be in the office! If only we could reverse that somehow!
Been a bit of a while since I last posted, so if you want to refresh yourselves with my intro: