Annual Leave in Japan – Taking Your Well-Earned Time Off
Annual leave in Japan is one of the areas where opinions often clash. After finally getting that working visa, most of us look forward to exploring the country on our days off. But is this really possible in a country that is famous for a work ethic that makes most employees barely use half of their vacation days?
Even in Japan, there is no need to forego your vacation days. But to prevent sour relations with your boss and coworkers, it’s useful to be aware of the differences between hard rules, mere customs and personal preferences. In this article, we clear these things up for you.
Legislation・Japanese Attitudes・Taking time off・Common Issues・Sick Leave
Annual leave legislation
Annual leave for time employees
Full-time employees in Japan have a basic statutory entitlement to 10 days of paid leave in their first year. In order to qualify for this, they have to fulfill following conditions:
- ✔ working at least 30h/week
- ✔ presence of more than 80%
- ✔ having worked at the company for 6 months (some companies let you take it earlier)
These 10 days of basic paid leave are regulated by law. You’ll have access to them as soon as the probation period ends. Starting from there, your total number of vacation days will increase the longer you stay at a company. Your annual holiday time will increase by 1 to 2 days. This “stacking effect” peaks out at 20 days of paid leave after seven years. Notice that these numbers are only the legally required minimum (including the 10 days you receive right at the start). Depending on your company, you might receive more vacation days right away or during subsequent years.
On paid leave you will receive the same salary as if you worked your usual hours as set in your contract.
Annual leave for part-time workers
Part-time workers also have a right to paid leave that stacks based on days worked per week and employment duration.
The salary calculation in this case is a little less straight forward. There are two ways to calculate, and your pay will be whichever one delivers the higher number.
1. last 3 months total wages/ number of days worked x 0.6
2. last 3 months total wages / 92 days
Why only 10 days?
There are companies who give their employees more paid vacations days and even ones that are changing to system that grants each employee the same amount of vacation days.
That said, national holidays give you additional time off. Japan is generous with around 12 public holidays per year. While the date is set, they do de facto bump you up to more than 20 days off work from the first year. Since everyone takes these days off together, everyone uses them to just kick back without any guilt (more on this later).
Sidenote: Employers are not legally required to pay you on national holidays. Luckily, as a full-time employee you are paid on a monthly basis and seen that public holidays are spread out quite evenly throughout the year, these days off won’t affect you monthly salary, making it a de facto paid leave.
Stocking up on paid leave
Paid leave can be carried over to the next year if unused, but expires after two years according to the 時季変更権(じきへんこうけん, Article 39.5 Labor Standards Act).
So you do not need to rush to use all your vacation days within the year. (If you want to, please by all means, take them!)
Japanese attitudes towards annual leave
The Japanese are infamous for not taking their paid leave. In 2017, Japanese employees only took about 50% of their paid leave on average. One reason is that the above is often linked to the thought that “If I take all my time off, I don’t show commitment to the company.” Making the desire for a promotion possibly the largest factor in not taking paid leave.
This doesn’t mean all Japanese are workaholics, far from it. But taking time off is often still associated with feelings of guilt. The underlying reasoning is that by being absent, you will cause your coworkers trouble and strain your personal relationships with them. Out of this consideration for their coworkers, many Japanese employees will try to do as much of their regular work before or after their time off. They do so to not burden their coworkers and to avoid possible mishaps.
Research suggests that better-rested people are more productive. In face of these results, the Japanese government put up multiple campaigns like Premium Fridays to encourage employees to take time off. In the newest attempt, it was made mandatory for employees to take at least 5 paid leave days per year.
Taking Annual Leave
Can I take my days when I want?
Let’s just make this point clear before we dive into the details. You decide when you take your days off. Even if you have to fill out forms and get the literal stamp of approval from your boss, you are not asking for allowance, you are exercising your right of taking a day off.(Following your company’s guidelines and going about it in a respectful manner is, of course, recommended.)
How to take vacation days
Companies will have rules in place on how to take paid leave. As mentioned above, you will likely have to fill out a specific form, run it by your boss(es), and hand it in to HR by a certain deadline.
Some companies may ask you to do it one week in advance, while your friends may be able to simply call in the day before.
While flexibility is certainly nice, giving advance notice allows your team members to adjust their schedule, avoid delays and misunderstandings.
Whatever the regulations at your company, stick to them, otherwise you might end up with an unpaid day off.
Of course, if you are sick these rules do not apply. Just let your boss know as early as possible. Your company will have rules for this case too.
If there is an emergency requiring to suddenly take time off that has nothing to do with your health condition (your lease got canceled and you are out on the street, etc.) talk to your boss or HR about an exemption.
Some issues you may encounter
When you check a job offer you may notice how they will write something around 120 days of vacation on there. This is neither a dream come true, nor a typo. Japanese people consider weekends to be (unpaid) vacation days and with around 104 of such days per year it boosts the number of your days off quite a bit.
Double check that job offer and get used to everyone telling you about their 休み when they talk about the weekend.
Companies will often list many types of vacation. Some of them might be paid, but some simply mean that the company guarantees you the right to take time off (with your paid leave) for specific occasions like your birthday, etc.
Company-wide closing days
Since many employees are hesitant to take longer periods of time off by themselves, for fear of causing inconvenience, some companies take action by simply shutting down the whole firm. This happens around Golden Week, Obon, and New Year’s.
The idea is taken from factories in Japan, who have done it for decades. It simply doesn’t make much sense to start everything up for only 1-2 days before the next public holiday brings everything to a halt again. The legislative foundation for this is called 計画年休, planned paid leave. This regulation was made as a special case for union members, etc. and if it applies to you, it will be written in your contract. It allows companies to set the dates of paid vacation of their employees, but also requires them to leave at least 5 days per year at the employee’s discretion.
On the bright side, this could guarantee you three full weeks off per year. On the down side travel costs during these seasons triple, and you are left with fewer days of paid leave to set at your own convenience.
The labor law allows companies to ask you to change your vacation days if it impedes the company. This right is rarely invoked by the company, since your boss needs to provide good reasons.
Much more common is that companies simply ask you to refrain from taking a leave during a busy period of your project. In that case you still can take time off, but there is a possibility that this might negatively affect your reputation.
Same as in other countries, it is possible that your boss may ask you to reschedule your vacation, because someone else in your team already took time off and it might be a strain to carry the workload of two absent people. If you still want to take off exactly the days you want, I’d recommend announcing them early on.
This really is a rare case, but just so you know, let me add it to this list. There have been reports of companies who count public holidays towards your paid vacation days. Even if they pay you for these days, they do not count towards your allotted paid vacation days. Know your rights.
You might wonder why sick leave turns up in an article about paid vacation days in Japan. The reason is as simple, though unfortunate: Japan does not have a concept of (paid) sick leave. As long as you have paid leave days left, you have to use them for absence due to sickness.
If you need more time off than you have paid leave left you will be shifted to “unpaid leave.” In case of long-term sickness, your health insurance will kick in with some financial support.
You might want to take unpaid leave for all your sick days, after all, while in Japan using these vacation days on travel and other things are tempting. Whether you are able to do so may vary by company and who you ask, but know that this is not standard practice and don’t count on it. That said, asking doesn’t hurt.
I can only recommend stocking a few days of paid leave and putting them aside in the case of sickness. If you do not get sick, use those days in the next year and treat yourself to a nice vacation.
Other types of paid leave
There is no right by law to any more paid leave than that stated above, but customary law makes many companies give you additional days for special family events.
A married couple can often get 5 extra days of paid leave to go on their honeymoon.
In the event of the death of a family member, you can take paid leave for mourning and to attend their funeral. The duration depends on your relation to the deceased. The general rule is 5 days for parents and siblings, and 3 days for grandparents.
In most cases you are expected to cover all your days off work with your paid leave, be it a vacation, an appointment at the municipal office or a sick day.
Some exceptions to this rule exist for family purposes. There are laws allowing for unpaid leave for family-related reasons like maternity leave, child rearing (taking unpaid leave when your child is sick), and nursing care. (The details are beyond the scope of this article.)
After successfully taking, and enjoying your paid leave it is customary to bring presents for your colleagues back from your travel. These omiyage (お土産, おみやげ) are typically local snacks from the region you were visiting. You will find nicely wrapped boxes at train stations, shopping malls and tourist areas all over the place.
When you buy something, there is no need to break the bank, options start from 500yen. Nevertheless, there are two things you should check for:
✔ Individual wrapping
✔ Number of pieces (one for each coworker)
This small courtesy will help create a positive connection with your coworkers. Who knows, they might even look forward to your next trip and the new tales of your experiences in their home country.
Be polite but firm when requesting your paid leave, and be considerate of Japanese customs such as omiyage. If you keep these two steps in mind you are setting a good tone, that will help you make it easier to take time off, even in an environment where some locals may still be reluctant to.
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