‘Workation’ concept catching on in overworked Japan

Kyodo

Yoshimasa Higashihara, a 35-year-old worker at Japan Airlines Co., worked for half a day at a cafe while he was on vacation in Singapore this year, drafting documents for a corporate event that was scheduled to take place right after he returned from his vacation.

“I feel like I can take a vacation (by doing this) even if there is something imminent at work. I can now plan a longer holiday,” said Higashihara.

Higashihara is talking about “workation,” a phrase coined for working while on vacation, which JAL introduced last year. Under the new system, employees bring their computers and smartphones to their travel destination, allowing them to work from there.

This way, they don’t need to cancel their vacation plans even if they need to attend an important meeting, and it encourages them to take longer vacations, a practice that is beginning to spread in Japan.

Some, like Noriteru Ino, 44, who works for an IT firm, even worked at a summer resort for an entire month in August, bringing their family with them.

Ino spent this summer in Kitanomori, Yamanashi Prefecture, in the hope of spending more time with his family.

He mainly worked at a home he rented or a local library, which effectively meant no commute. Like other colleagues who work remotely outside big cities, Ino started working at 8 a.m. and left early in the evening to play with his children.

Ino has been working remotely from a resort during the summer for the past three years. He first looks for housing he can rent for a month and then makes sure he has a stable internet connection.

“It’s cool and comfortable. My children are also glad to be able to play out in the woods,” said Ino. But he’s also careful not to make mistakes, which is the downside of working on your own.

In an attempt to cash in on the trend, municipalities are trying to lure employees on workation. Wakayama Prefecture, for example, offered workers in the Tokyo metropolitan area the chance to stay in the town of Shirahama for workations on a trial basis in July.

Still, critics argue that people on vacation should take their days off entirely.

Hiroshi Amano, an official at Wakayama Prefecture, said the prefecture wants to offer an option for workers who can’t take long vacations.

“People who have experienced it say their work efficiency improved” when they had a better work-life balance, said Amano.

An official at JAL noted workations are a last resort.

“It’s a safety net for those who have work that can’t be rescheduled,” the official.