Suga administration hopes everyone doesn’t party quite like it’s 1999 this year.

It’s been a pretty hard year to say the least, so it sure would be nice to kick-off the next one on a good note. Judging by the buzz in the media, Japanese workers might just get that with an unprecedented 17 consecutive holidays over the New Year.

Under normal circumstances a business or government office would probably close after 28 December 2020 and then resume the following Monday, 4 January 2021. These six days would often be spent visiting relatives and shrines or taking advantage of the many seasonal bargains, as is the custom here.

This years looks to be different, however, as on 23 October the Minister in charge of Economic Revitalization, Yasutoshi Nishimura, announced that he is requesting companies to extend their year-end vacations until 11 January, which is the Coming of Age day holiday. The purpose is to hopefully stagger the crowds visiting shrines, traveling, and shopping over a wider period of time, thereby reducing their numbers at any given time and preventing COVID-19 infections.

▼ The crowds at shrines during this time can get quite dense

That would bring the total number of consecutive holidays to 14. However, with that lone Monday on 28 December, it would seem likely a lot of people will cash in a paid holiday then and put the grand total of days off at 17.

As we saw with the lack of lockdowns throughout this year, the government can’t force companies to comply but some people are still very optimistic about the news.

“Yay!!! Let’s go fly a kite!”
“Fantastic, I don’t want to do any more work.”
“After 17 days I’m going to forget how to tie a Windsor knot.”
“I was excited until I remembered I work at a hotel…”
“Hopefully the coronavirus will also take those days off.”
“Throw in another stimulus check and we’ll be all set.”

There was also a lot of criticism over the idea from various viewpoints. Firstly, there’s still a deadly pandemic going on and some are expecting it to pick up steam in the mid-winter months where this prolonged holiday happens to be. However, the government managed to plow through the second wave of COVID-19 with their “Go To” campaign, offering financial incentives for domestic travel. As a result, cases were still relatively under control.

Also, this being a plan by the Minister in charge of Economic Revitalization, the goal is also to revitalize the economy. While an extra week of free time will certainly stimulate some personal spending, that seems to be a rather short-term solution overall. 

On top of that, there are many workers, from medical staff to convenience store clerks, who can’t benefit from this due to the nature of their work. Even those who do get the time off, like non-salaried temp workers, might not be too thrilled about it. Last year, Japan saw an extended 10-day holiday as Emperor Naruhito took the throne, which ended up putting an extra-hard squeeze on the incomes of those who earn money on a day-to-day basis.

▼ An added stimulus check, which is also currently being discussed, would go a long way to help there. After all, monetary gifts are also a big part of New Year’s in Japan

If all that wasn’t enough, while more commerce would be going on at the front lines, the companies themselves would be shutting down for a about another full week, which may very well still result in a net negative on the Japanese economy as a whole.

So there appears to be no shortage of reasons not to do this, but the government says they did the research and believe in the idea. I’m inclined to believe them too…because 17 days off in a row would be pretty sweet.

Source: Nikkan Gendai, Mainichi Shimbun, Itai News
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso (1, 2)
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