Etiquette guide: Working hours and holidays

When you’re doing business in Japan, understanding the work culture can make a difference. And to ensure you’re always in the right place at the right time, it helps to get au fait with working hours and public holidays. Here’s the lowdown on time and time off in Japan…

DO Plan afternoon meetings

Working hours in Japan aren’t dissimilar to most other countries – the day usually starts at around 9am and ends at 6pm-ish. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the problem of overcrowded public transport during rush hour, there have been efforts made in recent years to stagger people’s work schedules so they arrive at the office at different times, a concept known as ‘jisa-shukkin’ (時差出勤). In one innovative example, in 2019 Tokyo Metro offered passengers free soba noodles if they travelled before rush hour. Another reason to consider arranging meetings in the afternoon, when more people are likely to be at work, is the tendency for Japanese firms to have ‘chourei’ (朝礼), or morning assemblies, when teams go over the day’s agenda.

DON’T Expect to leave work on time

Japan is notorious for its hard-working culture, and you shouldn’t be surprised if your meetings in the country stretch well into the evening. However, in recent years things have been getting better for employees – in 2019 the government passed a law limiting overtime to 45 hours a month. That same year a TV show called ‘I Will Not Work Overtime, Period!’ made its small-screen debut. The determination of its main character to leave work at exactly 6pm so she could have a social life really struck a chord with the viewing public.

DO Find out when holidays are

Workers in Japan typically get between 10 and 20 days of annual leave, but many barely use them – according to government figures from 2018, workers only took 52.4% of the paid leave days they were entitled to. This is often because workers are nervous that by taking time off they will make life more difficult for their colleagues. However, there are plenty of public holidays and workers have the opportunity to take a longer vacation at New Year and during Golden Week – a series of five public holiday days in a single week. Don’t arrange any business dealings in Japan during the New Year period or Golden Week because many people will be off work. In fact, Golden Week can be a bad time to visit Japan in general because with the whole country holidaying at the same time, seats on trains and beds in hotels can become almost impossible to find, and those that can be found are often expensive.

Workers in Japan typically get between 10 and 20 days of annual leave, but many barely use them

DON’T Email at all hours

Regardless of when you email a Japanese company, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get a response. Many Japanese people check their work email at evenings and weekends, and this spirit of hard work can also extend to holidays. Moreover, since it’s understood that people at foreign companies probably aren’t familiar with Japan’s public holidays, and they might be working in a different time zone, many people will put in the extra effort to make themselves available. It’s good to be courteous, however, and by being mindful of Japanese holidays and working hours you’re likely to make a good impression.

DO Plan ahead for Christmas

The Japanese love celebrating Christmas, and the festive season in Japan comes with its own idiosyncratic customs – family-sized buckets of KFC on Christmas Day, slices of strawberry shortbread cake, and romantic meals on Christmas Eve. But if you’re visiting Japan for business in December, it’s worth remembering that Christmas Day isn’t a public holiday and you might find yourself at a desk when you’d rather be somewhere a little more fun.

Regardless of when you email a Japanese company, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get a response