For some, thinking about Japanese work culture easily conjures up the image of the tired, overworked salary-man dragging his feet to the train station just before the last train is due to depart for the night. At a quick glance, members of the Japanese working class are seemingly shackled to the colossal corporate machine. As news of certain company work culture leading to severe overwork and ultimately employees’ deaths draw international attention, it certainly does nothing to help the narrative. The mere fact that death by overworking, or 過労死 (karoushi) is a word that exists in the Japanese vocabulary can be worrying, and while evidence of worker exploitation certainly does exist, it is not to say that the society isn’t taking steps to change for the better.
On top of legally required holidays, companies nowadays are taking an initiative to facilitate better work-life balance for their employees. After all, happy and productive employees are infinitely better than those too tired and unhealthy to perform at their best. Furthermore, bad company practices garner attention and criticism – however rightly so, does not bode well for any organization.
So if you are thinking about working at a Japanese company, here are a few key terms about holidays to get acquainted with that will help you make the best choice that suits your career and lifestyle.
Know Your Legal Rights – Mandated Holidays 【法定休暇（Houtei-kyuuka)】
As the title suggests, these are holidays that every company is legally required to provide to their employees. Holidays that fall under the category, in addition to National Public Holidays include:
This category is in other words, annual paid leave days. The number of leave days starts at 10 days for half a year underemployment, with the number increasing with every year the employee is with the company. The guideline is given by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare is as follows:
Years of Work 0.5 1.5 2.5 3.5 4.5 5.5 >6.5
Annual Leave Days 10 11 12 14 16 18 20
Under this holiday, employers are required to provide women who experience difficult or painful monthly cycles the day off, or however much she needs in order to recuperate well enough to go back to work.
While pregnant, a woman can request holidays of up to 6 weeks (14 weeks if pregnant with more than 1 child). This allows women enough time to adequately prepare for the birth of their child. After childbirth, compulsory 8-week maternity leave is given, however, if a mother chooses to go back to work after 6 weeks of rest, a doctor’s permission must be acquired.
After the birth of a new child, both parents are allowed to apply for child-care leave. The initial application is for the period between the child’s birth up to their first birthday. After this period, further extensions can be requested up to the child’s second birthday, provided that the child has not been admitted into a nursery.
For the purpose of caring for family members and loved ones such as parents, an employee is allowed 5 days a year, or up to 10 days in the case where more than 2 family members are in need of care.
Extra Time Off: Company-Specific Holidays 【法定外休暇 (Houtei-gai-kyuuka)】
To better improve the work-life balance of employees, companies will offer extra days on top of mandated holidays. As these holidays are dictated by individual companies themselves, it can be difficult to say for certain what can entail, however, some common types can be seen below:
This can include honeymoon days for newlyweds, or for foreigners, time off to see family who is overseas, among others.
Some companies implement “Refresh” holidays, where employees who have contributed to the company for a significant amount of time are able to take some time off from work in order to rest and recuperate, so they can go back to work feeling more refreshed and productive.
Summer Holidays/New Year Holidays
While the New Year Holidays in Japan are the same as everywhere else in the world, it is custom for the Japanese to spend a few days with their family for the celebration. As such, companies can sometimes take a few additional days off during this time to allow for time with loved ones. Some companies may also allow time for summer or winter holidays.
Starting out at a job can be hard work, with its fixed schedules to adhere to, as well as demand for a significant amount of our time and efforts. While Japan may have a certain bad rep for its treatment of employees, companies have no doubt started to recognize the importance of the health and work-life balance of its members and making a conscious effort to change. That being said, it is still imperative that workers know what is within their legal rights and to fully understand the policies of the company they will be working for. Sources: