Our veteran salaryman-turned-reporter gives his idea for the one thing that has to change before Japan will stop working itself to death.

Japan is an incredibly hard-working society, so it might surprise people to know that the country is actually allotted a pretty decent amount of vacation days. In an annual study by online travel provider Expedia, the results showed that Japanese workers were given 20 vacation days a year, more than the average for the U.S., Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore, and as many as India.

But the more important statistic is how many of those vacation days people actually use. Not only was Japan last in the 12-country survey in terms of how many days it took off, Japan had the lowest vacation-usage rate, with workers using only 50 percent of their allowed time off. Since 2009, Japan has ranked last in vacation-usage rate every year except 2014 and 2015, when it was still a dismal second to last.

Even though Japan sees industriousness and mental endurance as extremely laudable virtues, there’s a quietly growing sentiment in Japanese society that overwork is reaching dangerous levels. Government organizations and private enterprises have been trying all sorts of strategies (some stranger than others) to encourage people to take their rightful time off, but often the results are middling or worse.

So what should they be doing instead? Our Japanese-language columnist P.K. Sanjun has an idea, so let’s turn it over to him.

Looking back on my 15 years as a working adult, before landing at SoraNews24 I worked in business consulting, web design, and real estate. Until my current job, I was always what you’d call a salaryman, and I think I’ve figured out why it’s so hard for people to take vacation time in Japan.

Essentially, the thing that made taking time off was always the same, no matter which company. When asking for time off, the workers always had a feeling of vaguely defined guilt.

“Everyone else is going to be working hard that day, so is it OK for just me to take time off?”

“It’s not like I’m feeling sick or anything, so if I take time off, will everyone think I’m lazy?”

Just when I was going to ask for a day off, those kinds of thoughts would run through my mind, and I couldn’t bring myself to fill out the vacation request paperwork. So I wouldn’t take time off, the vacation days I’d accumulated would expire, and the cycle would start all over again.

So what has to happen before employees in Japan will start taking their days off? My proposal is simple.

The boss has to take a lot of time off.

This is the only way things will change. Starting with the company president, then the vice president, then senior managers, then middle managers…all of the higher-ups have to take the initiative and use their vacation time. I wish company presidents would get the ball rolling by taking a day off in January, to set the tone for the rest of the year.

No matter how much the boss may say “Feel free to take time off,” if he doesn’t take time off himself, his employees aren’t going to either. For so many Japanese people, they’ll only be able to think “Oh…then I guess I can take a day off too” if they see their boss taking time off first.

It doesn’t matter what sort of legal regulations they put in place. The only way Japan’s vacation-use rate is going to budge is if bosses take time off. So if you’re a manager in Japan, start taking that vacation time. Do not leave any of our allotted days unused. Either rest hard or play hard, then work hard! That sort of boss is exactly who workers in Japan are waiting for.

Reference: Expedia Japan
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