Japan: Where Taking a Vacation is a No-No

BY SCILLA ALECCI
Sep 23, 2010

Why is the country number one in the world in logging in an extraordinary number of hours at work?

 

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 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.

 

 

Karoshi, or workaholism in Japan is considered a serious social problem.

Karoshi or workaholism in Japan is considered a serious social problem.

 

An anonymous businessman at Hatenalabo shares his experience 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!

 

A guy who had just joined the company six 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 that in his company also, people would think twice before asking to take some days off as they would be unpopular with their colleagues.

 

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 because of health problems.

H.N., a Japanese expat who has a blog explicitly called kusoshigoto “crappy work”, has no mercy for the Japanese labour system and criticises it both for the lack of government regulation and the instilling of sense of guilt and social pressures.

 

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  country-wide  business  culture.

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 the Japanese work ethic.

 

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”.