Time for a Break
Image Credit: Chris Gladis

Time for a Break


The idea of taking holiday when others are working is a moral minefield for many people in this nation of hardworking diligence. Be it the personal guilt of failing to show maximum commitment to an employer or the fear of reprisals for being seen as lazy, many Japanese choose not to take their full holiday entitlement. Knowing that employees will find it difficult to kick up a fuss, some companies happily take advantage of this situation.

Against this background, it’s not surprising to find that most Japanese take vacation when everyone else takes vacation—a handful of days at New Year and in the spring and summer holidays. While the nation can vacation with a clean conscience at these times, these mass holidays come with a price—expensive flights and hotels, and transportation gridlock.

To alleviate these intense periods of hellish congestion, a government panel aired plans earlier this month to introduce two five-day holidays in the spring and the autumn. This would increase the acceptable holiday periods in the year from three to four, cementing the status of autumn’s so-called Silver Week. So far, so good.

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It turns out, though, that the five-day holidays are really only three-day holidays with a weekend tacked on. But the real problem lies in the final key aspect of the plan, namely to stagger the holidays over different calendar weeks according to five geographical zones. This would effectively smudge these holiday periods over a period of up to five weeks, in an effort to spread the touristic benefits to provincial areas and relieve congestion.

Confused yet? Well, just imagine how confusing it’s going to be trying to operate a nationwide company knowing that for up to 10 weeks a year, part of your business will be closed. The result, of course, will be that a skeleton staff is left operating companies in areas ‘on vacation’ and soon the need to be on the skeleton staff will take everyone back to where we started.

Creating an environment in which companies learn to schedule around their employees’ vacations is the real solution. Establishing four holiday periods in the year would certainly be an improvement over the current situation, but the idea of staggering so many days? Surely that’s doomed to fail.

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