Enjoy your day off…which you would have had anyway!

Over the years, Japan has earned a reputation, or perhaps we should call it a stigma, as a country that routinely works its people to the breaking point. However, even ever-industrious Japan realizes that human beings aren’t machines. They need time off to rest their bodies and souls, and so the Japanese government builds in safeguards in the form of national holidays.

For example, last week Japan observed Labor Day. Since the holiday comes in the late fall, it’s not celebrated with outdoor barbecues like its American counterpart in September is, but hey, a day off is a day off, right? Japanese workers and students could relax, party, or do whatever else they wanted since they didn’t have to be in the office or classroom…except they wouldn’t have had to be there anyway, since Labor Day was on November 23, which was a Saturday.

In other words, this year Labor Thanksgiving Day, as the holiday is also called in Japan, was strictly about the gratitude towards the country’s hardworking people, with no actual reward accompanying the sentiment.

So what gives? Blame a 71-year-old law. Japan’s National Holiday Law, also known as Act No. 178 of 1948, established the framework for the modern holiday schedule, and stipulates that if a national holiday falls on a Sunday, then the earliest following day which is not already a national holiday will be designated as a holiday for that year. However, you’ll notice that the law specifically says “if a national holiday falls on a Sunday,” not “on a weekend.” In other words, if a national holiday falls on a Saturday, like Labor Day did this year, then it becomes a holiday in name only.

This is a harsh contrast with the system in the U.S., which stipulates that when a holiday falls on a Sunday, it will be observed on the following day (essentially the same rule as in Japan), but also that if the holiday falls on a Saturday, it will be observed on the preceding Friday.

However, it’s worth pointing out that Japan doesn’t always get the short end of the stick for holidays. For example, once again comparing to the U.S., Japan has 15 national holidays a year, which is 50 percent more than the U.S.’s 10, and sometimes the gap is even greater. Thanks to the generous Sub-clause 3 of Article 3 of Japan’s National Holiday Law, when two Japanese holidays are separated by a single non-holiday weekday, that weekday is transformed into a holiday too, like a Pokémon joyously evolving into a more powerful form. That’s something that happened twice this year, which takes just a little bit of the sting out of Labor Day falling on what was already a day off.

Sources: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister of Japan
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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