500-restaurant chain closes all branches to give employees’ time to spend with families at New Year’s.

With roughly 500 branches serving up tasty noodles, the Korakuen ramen chain is a great place for a quick, hot meal (like its chashu ramen, pictured above), especially during the chilly winter months. Just don’t plan to go on New Year’s Eve or Day.

Traditionally, businesses across Japan would shut down for several days at New Year’s, as pretty much the whole country went back to their home towns to spend time with their parents and extended family. In recent generations, though, more and more consumer-oriented businesses have been staying open through the holiday season. That’s a trend that Korakuen’s president, Noboru Niida, is hoping to reverse.

In a statement posted on Korakuen’s website, Niida said that he’ll be closing every single restaurant in chain for a day and a half , even though doing so will lose the company, by his estimate, 200 million yen [US$1.77 million] in sales.

Niida’s statement reads:

“We’re not sure when exactly it started, but a lot of restaurants have started staying open during the New Year’s season. Even we here at Korakuen promote ourselves as a ramen chain that’s open every day of the year.

Revenue is, of course, very important for a business. Stock prices are also very important. But there’s something else that’s far more important than either of those. It’s the emotional well-being of our employees, and I want to make protecting that the first action I take as the new president of this company, even if it means losing 200 million yen.

Working in the service industry doesn’t mean working while everyone else in the country is taking time off. People who work in the service sector have families too, and it’s fair for them to have time off at New Year’s too. And so, for the first time in the 64 years since our company was founded, we’re giving our employees, who spend every day working so hard, time off on the night of December 31, as well as all of January 1, by closing our restaurants on those days.

Improving working conditions in Japan means improving them at New Year’s too. I hope that this decision will become at least a small force for change.

I’d like to wish not just our customers, but also our employees, a happy and enjoyable New Year’s, and we hope you’ll continue to dine with us in the coming year.”

And so all Korakuen branches closed at 3 p.m. on December 31, and won’t open again until January 2.

▼ See you on Wednesday!

In a country where dangerous levels of overwork are often shrugged off with the attitude of “Can’t be helped. Gotta protect the bottom line,” and also one where leaving the office before your coworkers often carries a tinge of shame, Niida’s decision is a bold, and in many ways, heartwarming one. Granted, critics could argue that it’s a bit rooted in old-fashioned social norms. The custom of going back home for New Year’s is less prevalent these days than it once was, and with more singles living alone than at any other time in Japan’s history, some of them would probably choose putting in a shift at work and earning some extra cash over sitting at home with nothing to do on New Year’s Day. But for all those who’d rather start the New Year off in the company of friends and family, or even just loafing about on their own, as opposed to cooking and serving ramen for a bunch of strangers, Korakuen’s new policy is definitely something to be happy about.

Source: Korakuen via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Korakuen
Insert image: Korakuen