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Why Is The Paid Vacation Rate So Low In Japan?



In Japan, there is a big holiday week called Golden Week (GW) in early May. Since Japanese people can take a long vacation without having to take time off from work or school, with many people go out during this period. This causes traffic jams on the highways around the Tokyo area and crowds of people at tourist spots. This year, for the first time in two years, the restrictions on pandemic have been loosened, and many people may have been encouraged to go out. However, Japanese people tend to take vacations of two or three nights, which is very different from the style of foreigners who take longer vacations of 2 weeks or longer. In addition, Japanese people are very considerate of others, and it is customary to buy souvenirs for those who have taken care of them on a regular basis. Foreigners may find it hard to believe that they have to worry about souvenirs when they have come all the way here on vacation! Foreigners buy souvenirs for themselves, not for others, as a memento of their visit.

So why is it so difficult to take long vacations in Japan? Compared to the rest of the world, Japan has the lowest paid vacation utilization rate at less than 50%.

The first reason is that Japanese people want to present a very serious impression. Many people take working long hours as a positive sign that they are working hard. They also feel guilty about taking more holidays than other members of the team or going home earlier than others. They also think that if they are the only one taking long vacations, they may cause problems for their bosses and colleagues, worry about falling behind in their work, or even think that it may affect their salary increase. In other countries, people who work overtime all the time are considered to be incapable of managing their work schedules and are considered to be unqualified for the job. In Japan, on the contrary, overtime work is often viewed as a virtue, as it shows that people are working hard.

The second reason is that Japan has 16 national holidays per year, more than any other country in the world. In the UK, there are only 8 days for example, half as many as in Japan. In recent years, due to the pandemic, it has become easier to take holidays than before, but in Japan, people use these holidays to take a couple of days off with pay for one or two days and then go on a trip, rarely taking a longer vacation like people in other countries do. However, many companies take consecutive holidays during the New Year and Obon season (around August 13-16). The following are this year’s national holidays in Japan for reference.


January 1  New Year’s Day

January 2nd Monday Coming of age day

February 11 National Foundation Day

February 23 The Emperor’s Birthday

March 21 Vernal Equinox Day

April 29 Showa Day Shyowa Day

May 3 Constitution Memorial Day Holiday

May 4th Greenery Day

May 5th Children’s Day Children’s Day

July 3rd Monday Marine Day

August 11th Mountain Day

September 3rd Monday Respect for the Aged Day

September 23 Autumn Equinox Day

October 2nd Monday Sports Day

November 3rd Culture Day Holiday

November 23 Labor Thanksgiving Day


Lastly, on personal reflection,  I grew up in Japan, so I never had any doubts about how to take vacations until I went abroad in my late 20’s. However, I met many foreigners abroad and was surprised at how they took their vacations. I met many foreigners overseas and was amazed at the way they took their vacations. When Japanese people, including myself, go on vacation abroad, we often make a schedule to visit tourist attractions as much as possible and buy as many souvenirs as possible to take back home. However, it seems that foreigners tend to take it easy and spend their time without making much of a schedule. They wander around the city and eat what they want to eat at the time. They spend their time leisurely, enjoying nature, eating local food and sandwiches in parks, reading their favorite books, listening to music, etc., so as not to spend too much money.

I thought this kind of relaxing time is an area that Japanese people who work diligently every day would like to emulate. It is important to be busy working every day, but it is also important to take a long vacation and stop and think about what you are working for and what your life is about.


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