Japanese take the least amount of vacation time…
Given that today is Labor Day in the US and Canada, I thought this article from Business Media Makoto was appropriate (article in Japanese). It turns out that of 9 industrial nations profiled, SURPRISE! – Japanese nationals take the least amount of vacation from work. The article cites the following data from research done by Expedia Japan (I couldn’t find info in English):
- Japanese nationals take an average of only 8 days of paid vacation time from work per year (compared to France’s 35 days [!!], Spain/Italy’s 27, Germany 25, Holland and Austria’s 24 days, UK’s 23 days, and the US is at 13)
- Japanese use only 13% of the paid vacation time they are given (German’s use 81% of theirs, the French 80%, Brits 77%, Spanish 76% and Americans 69%)
- 39.5% said they are too busy at work to take time off
- 34.1% said they would like to save their vacation time for emergencies or in case they get sick
- 24% said they cannot take time off because of peer pressure at work (their bosses and colleagues aren’t taking any time off).
- 14% said that their bosses and peers actually frown upon taking paid vacation time
Japanese have always had a reputation for being hard workers, and this survey would suggest that this is true to a certain extent. In my personal experience of working for large corporations in Japan for 7+ years however, although I would say that the majority of Japanese are very diligent workers, you do see a lot of slack-offs or people pretending to work harder than they really are. If you walk around the various business districts in Tokyo during the day for example, you will see that all of the coffee shops are filled with “hard working” salarymen who stay for hours at a time – sometimes even catching up on their sleep. I used to go on sales calls with Japanese colleagues who would set up 1 or 2 brief meetings where we would sit around and chat for a while over tea and coffee, and then we would promptly head over to a coffee shop to ‘unwind’. Oh good times…
Another factor to consider in the above survey is that Japanese have more national holidays (15 official days, compared to 11 in the US). Just with Golden Week (a cluster of 4 holidays during the same week in late April/early May) and New Year’s alone (where the whole country shuts down for a week) there are two full weeks of time off. Most people seem to take a paid holiday around the remaining holidays, or in summer during Obon season when it is more acceptable to take time of (since everybody seems to be doing it!). In most cases, people don’t take more than a week off at a time.
The workplace in Japan is as political as any other office around the world, but peer pressure is especially high to stay as late as your colleagues - heaven forbid you leave before your direct superior without any extenuating circumstances. This also applies toward taking vacations, so I suspect that reason #3 above is actually much higher.