Today I will cover some of the anomalous holiday policies that govern our working lives in Japan.
New Year's break. This is an interesting holiday period because it varies by each company. However, many foreign affiliates either follow the bank holiday system, which is from December 31st through January 3rd, or the government offices holiday break, which is from December 29th through January 3rd. If your company services other companies it probably follows the bank calendar. If it makes products, then it probably follows the government calendar. Or, if you're like our firm, we hybridize and give our people a break from December 29th, while maintaining a skeleton staff on for the very few customer calls that might come in. Those working on the 30th or 31st get two days in compensation at some other time in the year.
Do you get extra paid leave for the New Year break or does it come out of your holiday allocation? Almost all companies do pay the extra. They will announce the year-end holiday schedule around August or September and you can start planning from that point. Keep in mind, though, that both the length of the break and the decision to pay employees for it is up to each company, so check first before booking air tickets.
What about Christmas? This is just a commercial celebration in Japan and most companies will not happily give Christmas Day off, even if you're a foreigner. So be ready to either skip it, or negotiate well in advance for Christmas to be one of your scheduled holidays.
In Japan, many companies give their employees holidays in Obon (a Buddhist festival remembering one's ancestors that happens on 15th day of the 7th month of the old lunar calendar) to allow them visit family grave. This happens around August 13th through 16th. I guess this is also practical to give holidays around this time, as heat of summer can result in low productivity of employee.
Although the law provides everyone 10 days annual leave, to be taken in principle when you want to take it, there is another legal provision that allows the company to reach agreement with the union or the representative of majority of the employees to bunch part of everyone's leave allowance into the summer break. So, if you're in such a company and they mandate a week or so of summer holidays, you have no option but to take them.
For those of us working for foreign affiliated companies, the significance of Obon holidays is much reduced. There are no actual public holidays during the Obon period and so many of us keep working. If you want to take time off with family, you'll need to use some of your holiday allowance. Needless to say, there are still a lot of companies in Japan that give Obon holidays and when they shut down for few days, the highways and trains are jam-packed with people heading to their ancestral homes. I strongly suggest trying to move the summer break with the kids either ahead or after the Obon period.
Resigning. A reader wrote in and asked what happens to your holidays if you resign. The rule is that you are supposed to give a minimum 2 weeks notice and if you have holidays left over, you can still take them. What most companies will do, though, if you're giving them just 2 weeks, is to offer to buy out your holidays and have you do a proper handover of job responsibilities to another employee ("hikitsugi").