Workaholic Japan considers making it compulsory to take vacation days


Who wouldn’t want a holiday?

In Japan, plenty of workers fail to take their paid vacation allowance. The Abe administration is now considering making it compulsory for workers to take at least five days of paid holiday a year, in a bid to lessen the toll on mental and physical health.

Workers typically use less than half their annual leave, according to a survey by the labor ministry that found employees in 2013 took only nine of their 18.5 days average entitlement.

A separate poll showed that one in six workers took no paid holidays at all that year.

The administration wants to boost the amount of paid leave used to 70 percent by 2020 and is planning to submit legislation in the current Diet session mandating holidays.

In early discussions, employers’ groups have proposed limiting the number of compulsory paid holidays to three days, while unions have called for eight.

The culture of long working hours and unpaid overtime is regularly criticized as a leading cause of mental and physical illness among employees.

The term “karoshi,” which means “death by overwork,” entered the lexicon a few years ago amid a surge in the number of people dying because of stress-related problems or taking their own lives.

According to a poll by the Japanese unit of Expedia, a U.S.-based online travel agency, workers in France enjoyed 37 paid holiday days in 2010 and used 93 percent of them.

Spain had 32 paid vacation days and Denmark 29, with the average employee using up more than 90 percent.

As well as the health benefits, days off encourage workers to spend money on leisure activities, thereby boosting the economy.

Japan has a relatively high 15 statutory holidays annually. In recent years there has been a move to shift the days so that they fall adjacent to the weekend, making domestic holidays more of a possibility.

This year for the first time there will be a five-day weekend in May and in September, to which it is expected some employees will add a few days’ leave to make their vacations longer.

  • Steve

    Having to make it compulsory for workers to take at least five days of paid holiday a year.
    Employers proposing to limit this to three days……


    I guess Japan’s Foreign Legion of knee-jerk keyboard defenders may attempt to spin this appalling situation somehow (probably citing things of tenuous relevance which compare favourably to elsewhere as is their usual modus operandi – ” country X does/did it too, and much worse!”), but this is just wrong plain and simple. There are bizarro things here and this is one of em.

  • Stephen Kent

    While it’s true that Japan does have more statutory holidays than other countries on average, forcing everyone to take the same days off isn’t really the solution to work induced mental and physical illness in my opinion. I once tried to go somewhere by road in Golden Week, and it was perhaps one of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever had; flashing signs on the gridlocked motorway we were on indicated that it was going to take at least four hours to get out of Tokyo so my friends and I had no choice but to abandon our plans out of despair and escape from our painfully slow-moving prison on wheels using the emergency stairs at the side of the road by lying to the bus driver and telling him one of us was ill and we needed to get off the bus right now. Hardly a stress-free day off. Crowded motorways and trains, fully booked accommodation, and popular destinations teaming with people don’t make for a stress-relieving situation, and anyway, most of the public holidays days are random single days in the middle of the week – definitely not enough time to forget about work and relax let alone go anywhere.

    If the idea is to reduce stress then wouldn’t it be better to empower company employees to take all of their holidays without fear of reprisals or punishment rather than forcing them to take a paltry five (which would doubtlessly be used at the employers discretion anyway)? By law, employees are already theoretically entitled to their full complement of paid leave; the fact that they don’t is down to the corporate culture whereby companies make employees work ludicrous hours to ensure that they remain subservient, driving down efficiency and morale with excessive paperwork, formalities, and reports to ensure exhaustion and obedience. Whilst this culture was almost certainly not planned, I can’t help but feel that it grew out of the country’s long marshal and Confucian history, so empowering employees (to enjoy the rights they have on paper) would represent a fundamental challenge to this culture. I think that any significant improvement in the situation will have to be bottom up, and while it’s good that the union have called for eight days off, it will probably take more proactive action than a just a ‘call’ for better conditions; action that would probably be viewed by most company bosses as a mutiny.

  • Common Man

    please make it compulsory for the Japanese to fall in love and marry and also settle a household. Dear Samurais, dont commit suicide. the world needs you! :)

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    I’ve always thought that another part of this problem is the “Post-war Worker Myth.” People have been filled with stories of how, amidst the post-war destruction, what was left of the Japanese workforce made a superhuman effort, thought nothing of themselves and gave and gave and gave of their time. The later miracle economy was partly due to these tireless individuals who selflessly worked sometimes to the point of death. What is always left out of the story however, is that they were fueled by officially supplied amphetamines (described to them as “vitamins”). Business and government since have held aloft these people as an example all workers should strive to emulate. Not quite as easy though on a diet of cigarettes, happoshu and teeny idoru.

  • blackpassenger

    blah blah blah. Another stupid only in of Japan problem