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Japan: Where taking a vacation is a no-no

Lying lazily in the shadow of an umbrella on a beach, being a tourist and wandering around the streets of an unknown city with a guide book in your hands, or just relaxing at home enjoying free time. Common ways of spending a holiday perhaps, however, many Japanese forego these every year in order to miss as few days of work as possible.

According to a survey by Expedia Japan that examines the ‘Vacation Deprivation’ situation [ja] in 11 developed countries, Japanese workers take on average only 7.9 days off a year. Japan, with an average allowance of 15 paid days off a year is the country with the smallest number of paid days off after the U.S. It is, however, number one for untaken vacation time.

Among the causes are said to be pressure and anxiety due to the economic crisis and a working environment where few people dare to be absent from work so as to avoid “causing trouble to their colleagues” by increasing their workload.

A proposal to replace the old-fashioned OUT OF OFFICE message. by Luis Gosalbez. CC License

An anonymous business man at Hatenalabo shares his experience [ja] as a superior with the authority to allow vacation time to his younger colleagues. From executives down to the heads of smaller divisions, nobody wants to take the responsibility to say “yes” to a colleague who wants to use the days off that are due to him in his contract. The older colleagues don't take vacations and so the newer ones won’t either. That's the praxis!

入社して半年ばかりたった男の子が、「来月友達と旅行行くんで1週間休んでもいいですか?」とかいってきた。
急にそんなこと言い出したから「ちょっと、さすがに一週間は無理でしょ」って注意したら、酷く怯えたような、物悲しいような恐ろしい顔で私のこと見てたけど、今考えるもっととソフトな言い方すればよかった。
とくに立て込んだ予定も入ってなかったから休ませてあげたい気持ちもないことはなかったけど、そんな習慣はなく、そもそもだれも有給休暇を消費しない社内環境で、上司や他の同僚が聞き耳立ててる状況ではやっぱり無理だよ。そんな恐い顔しないでよ。
あっても使えなくてさらにへんな罪悪感を植えつけるような制度なら最初から無くなって欲しいよ。

A guy who had just joined the company 6 months ago asked me: “Next month I want to travel with some friends so may I have a week off?”
“One week is impossible, you’ll have to understand!” I said, as his question came out of the blue. He looked at me with a sad and scared face. I should have taken a softer tone. […] There were no particular plans in the way and it's not that I didn’t want him to take vacation time, but it's just not a practice in our company. First of all, the environment in our company is such that nobody uses all their paid time off. Also, superiors and colleagues around us were listening to our conversation. It was impossible for me to say yes. Don't make such an expression…
We have a system with paid time that's unusable and instills a sense of guilt on top of that. It's better to have no system at all.

Another recent survey on foregone leave by Ipsos and Reuters of 24 countries around the world revealed that only 33% of Japanese workers choose to use up their entitlements. France was first with 89%.

Sasa, a business man, confesses [ja] that in his company also, people would think twice before asking to take some days off as they would be unpopular with their colleagues.

sasaの周りでも有給なんて、あってないようなもの。取れない風潮がある。
残業しないで帰ろうとすると、えっ?まさか帰るわけじゃないよね?という雰囲気で言葉をかけられる。

Paid time in my environment is also something that exists but not really. The general climate is such that you really can't take it.
Even if one tries to leave at the normal end of the day without working overtime, people would talk to you with the accusatory undertone of saying “What? You are not really going home now are you?”

The lack of a regulation on sick leave in Japan forces many workers to use their paid vacation entitlements if they are ill. This is also one of the reasons why many people prefer not to use all the days off they have accumulated fearing they may have none left in case they can’t work due to health problems.

H.N., a Japanese expat who has a blog explicitly called kusoshigoto “crappy work”, has no mercy for the Japanese labor system and criticizes it [ja]both for the lack of Government regulation and the instilling of sense of guilt and social pressures.

正直、sick leave(病欠給)がない国ってのは聞いた事がない。特に日本は先進国、経済大国wとか言っておきながらsick leave(病欠給)すら定められてなくて、病気で休んだら有給が削られるなんてエグ過ぎるだろ? これはクソ会社の問題って言うより傲慢な国の問題かもな。仕事絡みのストレスでウツ病なったり、過労死や過労自殺など世界でも類を見ないような社会問題が頻発してるのに見ないふり、聞こえないふりか? 連日終電ギリギリまで働かせておいて「体調管理も仕事のうちw」って言ってるのと同じレベルでクソだな。

Honestly, I’ve never heard of a country that doesn’t have sick leave provisions! In particular, Japan which boasts of being a developed country and one of the greatest economic powers, has no laws to regulate such leave entitlements. If you don’t go to work because you’re sick, it will be taken from your paid vacation time. Isn’t this absolutely terrible? Far from being a problem in a single, crappy company this is a problem of an arrogant countrywide business culture.
Are they pretending that social problems related to work conditions such as depression caused by stress or overwork death and suicides (problems that are unprecedented in other countries) don’t exist? ” Those in management that make people work until they can barely make the very last train of the day to go back home and still have the gall to say “health control is part of the job” are all a part of the problem of this crappy system.

H.N. then continues with his polemic and questions [ja] the Japanese work ethic.

本来、仕事は生活するための手段に過ぎないのに、日本ではいつの間にか仕事自体が目的になってしまっているんだよな。諸外国では当たり前のwork to live(生きるために働く)の価値観が、live to work(働くために生きる)にすり替わってるんだから。

Although work has always been a means to live, the Japanese people now see work as an end in itself. While in every other country people “work to live”, in Japan the values are diametrically opposite and they seem to “live to work”.

5 comments

  • Maciej Malinowski

    Great article! But the reality in other countries is not so bright… Still many people live to work and only take vacation because after a brake your work is much more effective. The work is so stressful and tiring you just have to go on holiday to regain your powers.

  • I would like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles dealing with mental health issues in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal.

    Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):
    Japan: 0120-738-556
    Tokyo: 3264 4343

    AMDA International Medical Information Center:
    http://amda-imic.com/

    Tokyo Counseling Services:
    http://tokyocounseling.com/english/
    http://tokyocounseling.com/jp/

    http://www.counselingjapan.com

  • […] As Japan bears an ongoing job market slump, which is intertwined with the crumbling of the employment system, roiling emotions and perspectives were captured through a series of articles including coverage of a rare demonstration parade by college students, sage advice from an industry analyst, and buoyant observations about a new breed of NEET. The longstanding corporate culture of Japan Inc continues to be an oft discussed topic in the Japanese blogosphere, such as the rite of passing of becoming a “social being“, alcohol as social lubrication, and the difficulty of taking time off. […]

  • […] identity had been compromised. A Japanese expat in Singapore, Kusoshigoto blogged against “slaving away” for Japan Inc., and his provocative tone of voice often elicited emotional response from the […]

  • […] the subtitle “Job is shit”, attracted many people who felt a sense of discomfort with the widely-accepted attitude toward work. It was filled equally with numerous backlash […]

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