Why is it that Japanese people don’t take vacations? Or very few vacations?
I have my own theory.
I have lived for the past 10 years outside of Japan, and when I have friends visiting from Japan, I am always surprised at how short they stay in Europe.
When I was living in Paris, a friend of mine from high-school came to visit on a “long weekend”. She caught the flight on Friday evening after work, she arrived in Paris on Saturday morning. We spend Saturday and Sunday together, then she left on Monday afternoon and was back to work on Tuesday. She slept on the plane and went straight to work, after a 12 hour flight.
Another friend flew in from Tokyo to Scotland, and stayed literally for 24 hours to attend a common friend’s wedding.
I can continue making a whole list of some crazy friends coming and going for a very short trip, which I never understood. I need at least 2 weeks stay if I am flying across the world for more than 10 hours in a flight. There are popular tours going from Japan to Los Angeles, for “3 nights 5 days” meaning the 2 travelling days, you are sleeping on the plane.
I gave a thought about why Japanese people like to pack their vacations and do everything on a short trip, and here is what I think.
Japanese people don’t (or can’t) take many days off.
The first obvious reason is that it is hard to take holidays, or let me rephrase it, they have holidays but people don’t want to take them. There are a few long holidays when many companies are closed, and these are during the New Year and one week at in mid august. Then one’s paid holiday generally is about 15–20 days a year.
However, according to Expedia, Japan is the lowest countries of paid holiday usage. This chart shows, that on average, only 50% of holidays were used. It is an improvement compared to 2012, when only 38% of paid holidays were used.
The reason why Japanese workers take only half their paid vacation, according to this article in Nikkei Asia, is that companies are generally understaffed, so the employees can’t take days off, due to too much work that needs to be done.
At the same time, Japan is ranked as one of the worst countries in efficiency. This means that working hours are long, but does not lead to efficient production. This means that productivity is not optimal although the working hours are long.
Another common answer to why Japanese workers don’t take paid vacations was to “keep the paid holiday just in case”. I remember having only 3 days of sick leave a year, so if I got a nasty cold that lasted a week, I will have to use my paid holiday to cover the remaining 2 days or day off.
2) Things work so well that you don’t need long holidays to relax
Another reason why Japanese people take short holidays is because everything functions properly that short weekends can be very refreshing whilst travelling within Japan.
I remember taking short trips to many destinations in Japan, and doing loads. For example, I used to go on
weekend ski trips. The trains arrive and depart on time, and there are options to rent everything upon arrival. The food and drinks were all included, and the hotel usually has a hot spring (here you can also check an article about the bath culture in Japan)
I would leave on a Friday evening, and ski for 2 days, returning on Sunday evening.
In Europe, things operate a little differently. It can be difficult to predict the arrival time to the destination because trains are always delayed. Eating cultures are also different and it takes much longer to get food at restaurants. Also, the European believes that a vacation should be much longer than just a “weekend”.
It’s a different mentality, which lead to handle vacations differently. The europeans tend to take longer time off, so often the travelling day will consist of “travelling and arriving to the destination” — unlike the Japanese who will expect to travel and do something else during that day.
If you have a longer holiday, then the activity done on the first day will be less important.
Since the Japanese people go on shorter trips, they will try to pack the days with activities. There are various tour guide services to efficiently take travellers around. I’ve been on a trip to Vietnam with some of my Japanese friends, and it was very efficient. We went to so many places, the schedule was full from morning to the evening. I feel like I’ve been to Vietnam for several days, looking at the amount of activities we’ve done, but it was only a 4 night trip.
I also worked as a tour guide in Paris, taking Japanese people around. I often got overwhelmed looking at the amount of activity they wanted to accomplish in the 5 hours I was paid to show them around. I once took a family to Versailles in the morning and we were back around 2pm, covering most of the ground in Versailles. It is a very large palace, for those of you who’ve never been.
3) The difference in the relaxation culture
The one culture I really miss about Japan, that I won’t be able to find in Europe, is the possibility to get total relaxation in a short amount of time. Such as taking a nice bath at hot-springs or local bath houses (which are called Sento 銭湯・せんとう）or getting a quick massage, even on a massage chair. The day I was leaving Japan, I had some money left in my wallet, and then I found a massage chair at the airport. It was 100 yen for 10 minutes. I believe I sat there for 30 minutes before my flight took off.
Reflexology and acupuncture, are also very popular for a quick recovery.
I think this culture of quick refreshment and relaxation helps to recharge the energy in a quick manner therefore allowing people to manage on shorter holidays.
Since I started living in Europe, I tend to need longer vacations. The physical and mental exhaustion from daily disfunctionality makes you unbelievably tired, especially coming from a very functional country. Living in a stress free environment can allow one to take less vacations.