Holiday Blues

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

This week, the Japanese National Diet, or parliament, adopted a new national holiday, Mountain Day (山の日), which officially gives the people of Japan 16 total national days off.  Beginning August 11 of 2016, Japan will have more national holidays than South Korea, France, Spain, and Italy.  Mountain Day joins holidays like New Years, Constitution Day, the Emporer’s Birthday, Health and Sports Day, Culture Day, Children's Day, Coming of Age Day, Respect for the Elderly Day, and Vernal and Autumnal Equinox Days, as well as two other recent additions: Ocean Day and Greenery Day, a day to give thanks for plants.


While the high number of national holidays might make the Japanese appear to have an explosion of leisure time, in fact the opposite is true.  Japanese employees worked an average of 2,031 hours a year in 1990, compared with 1,831 in the United States and 1,578 hours in Germany, according to the Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training. While the number has declined nearly 15% to 1,728 hours in 2011, the average Japanese worker only takes 8.6 days of personal vacation a year.  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made the issue of work-life balance a part of his economic reform package, specifically so that more women can enter the workforce, setting a target of women occupying 30 percent of leadership positions in Japanese society by 2020.  


Of course, national holidays mean more work, not less, for workers in the retail and consumer industries.  For example, in lieu of holidays worked, Uniqlo gives employees 16 additional days off that they can take throughout the year.  The national holidays of course also bring congestion and traffic on the trains and highways.  Another issue is that in Japan, unlike the United States, workers are not paid when they are on leave for a national holiday. 


Still, the government hopes that the new holiday will improve the lives of workers in Japan, where there is still a word, Karoshi (過労死), meaning “death from overwork.”  One in three men aged 30 to 40 works over 60 hours a week. Half say they get no overtime. Factory workers arrive early and stay late, without pay. Training at weekends may be uncompensated.  Worse yet, the number one cause of death in 2010 for the 20-29 age group and the 30-39 age group was suicide.  Japan knows it is time to change.   Toyota, for example, now generally limits overtime to 360 hours a year (an average of 30 hours monthly), and at some offices issues public address announcements every hour after 7 p.m.  Dozens of large corporations have also implemented "no overtime days", which require employees to leave the office promptly at 5:30 p.m. However, since their workload is too high, few workers can actually take advantage of this, opting to stay in the office with the lights off or simply taking their work home (called furoshiki or "cloaked overtime").


Below is the full text of the new law, in Japanese:


国民の祝日に関する法律の一部を改正する法律案 国民の祝日に関する法律(昭和二十三年法律第百七十八号)の一部を次のように改正する。 第二条海の日の項の次に次のように加える。

山 の 日 八 月 十 一 日 山に親しむ機会を得て、山の恩恵に感謝する。 附則