A good portion of the population still spends its New Year's and Golden Week holidays in traffic jams, so I have my doubts about the success of the Premium Friday campaign, which started on Feb. 24 and was concocted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to get more workers to take time off and stimulate consumption. METI encourages employers to allow their charges to leave work at 3 p.m. on the last Friday of the month without any reduction in wages in the hope that they'll shop, eat out and travel. But the scheme is so timid that it's difficult to believe it will achieve its goals.

The anonymous writer of Asahi Shimbun's finance-related Keizai Kishodai column pointed out in the Feb. 18 edition that Japanese people only think of time off on a day-by-day basis, whereas Europeans tend to conceptualize it in week-long blocks, as "vacations." METI is constricting the mind-set even further by delineating people's free time in terms of hours.

The business magazine Toyo Keizai called METI's plan an "idea that comes from no idea," since Japan has never properly institutionalized the notion of leisure. The United States and European countries have more mature approaches to the matter because their governments began promoting time off from work before World War II. It wasn't until the early 1990s, with the end of the high-asset bubble period, that the Japanese government mandated Saturdays off for civil servants, thus setting a precedent for the private sector to do the same thing.