In the Japanese holiday system there are two types of days off： the paid holiday (yuukyuu) and the free day in lieu (daikyuu). When starting at a company you will not have any yuukyuu days at all. I fact, until you get a full time contract this will remain the case. If you want a day off you’ll have to forfeit some pay; this is a little sneaky as they try to avoid hourly rates to circumvent overtime payment laws, but when it comes to withholding pay they’ll be very happy to think in hourly rates. You should think of an unpaid holiday taking roughly 1/20th of your monthly wage.
Once you get your full-time contract you will probably not be allocated any yuukuu for the first 6 months orso of your new contract, regardless of how long you have been working there on a per-contract basis previously. The number you get eventually is usually 10 days per year but again, each company has its own rules. After a specified period of service the number may increase by an extra 2 or 3 days a year, probably with a cap to stop the holiday-shy workers stockpiling months and months of yuukuu.
Daikyuu is a free day you get for working on national holidays or weekends. At most companies you’ll have to get permission first before working when you’re supposed to be off. This, together with other possible limitations to daikyuu use, say, an expiry date, all depends on your company. The process and paperwork you need to go through to get and use daikyuu also differs from company to company but can sometimes be very laborious, going up and down hierarchical chains of command with approvals at every step.
On occasion a team that has worked nights and weekend may be given some daikyuu as a “thank you”. Breaks in the interim between projects are not standard but can occur.
There are no allocated “sick days”. If you’re too ill to work you’re forced to use yuukyuu or daikyuu or, if you’re under contract, forfeit some pay. For this reason, probably, sick people often drag themselves into work, infecting all his colleagues and aggravating the whole situation. Rather than send these people home to recover quickly and come back to work healthy it is accepted that they sit miserably at their desk, freely distributing snot and germs and moaning like a bison pulling its leg out of a swamp.
You may have seen images of face masks supposedly worn by the ill to protect others around them; well, not quite. Maybe it is the social skills of game developers but I found only 1% of people use them. I have often resorted to wearing them to protect myself from colleagues with the sniffles.
To complement your meager yuukuu there are plenty of national holidays in Japan though. There is a story, probably apocryphal, that the Japanese government organized research into alleviating stress and tiredness in its hard-working citizenry, which was duly cancelled when the researches got overworked themselves. But it definitely is true that a set of historic national holidays was complemented with a few more to get the Japanese people to rest up a little.
A list of national holidays in Japan:
January 1st – New year, though often you’ll get off until the first Monday of the year.
2nd Monday in January – A national holiday for all, but a special day for the 20 year olds as they become adult.
February 11th – A holiday to celebrate the crowning of Japan’s very first emperor.
March 21st – Spring equinox.
Golden Week – A few national holidays at the end of April, often, but not always, turned into a week’s holiday. Bad time to travel as all travel agencies and hotels hike up their prices to cash in on the sudden demand.
3rd Monday of July – A day to celebrate the ocean, or rather, to just do nothing and then fail to teach your gaijin colleagues what you’re suppose to do to the ocean on this day anyway.
Some time in August – Obon is a season for festivals and paying your respects to your ancestors. Usually you’ll get a few days to a week off around this time. A lot of companies use this as their “official summer holidays”. If a recruitment advert tells you a company has “summer holidays” it is more than likely this that they are referring to.
3rd Monday of September – Old fogies day.
September 23rd – Autumn equinox.
2nd Monday of October – Health and sports day. Another day to waste in front of the television, drinking beer and eating crap.
November 3rd – Culture day. Probably something to do with Japanese culture rather than Petri dishes.
November 23rd – Labour day, a day off to thank all the hard-working people of Japan for being such bricks!
December 23rd – (the current) Emperor’s birthday.
If a national holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday after is usually a free day too. Though some official institutions may close their doors on holidays most shops and venues will follow regular opening hours, so it need not be a wasted day.
As you can see there is no Easter or Christmas in Japan. The latter is, in a sense, celebrated in is own unique and expensive ways, but you will not be given an automatic holiday. I found that most employers are aware of its importance to foreigners and usually make it easy for you to take time off around this time.
To be honest, I have no idea about other non-Japanese holidays. If you’re deeply Christian, Jewish or Moslem you may need certain times off for religious reasons and though there are usually no provisions for this I recon most bosses are so scared and confounded by multiculturalism you’ll probably won’t have too many troubles convincing them; though you may need to use your own daikyuu or yuukuu for those.
If you’re very lucky your company may have a set of its own holidays. I have heard, for example, of one company that gives its employees the day off on the anniversary of its founding. Others may have “early closing Fridays” on occasion or distribute daikyuu liberally after the completion of a project. On the whole it is not something you can count on, so take it gladly when offered but don’t expect or demand any more than the usual.
Enjoy each and every national holiday and paid holiday as best you can; you’ll be working hard all through the year and though the temptation may be to just pig out, stay at home in your dressing gown and do bugger all, you won’t get many other opportunities to travel and see a bit of Japan. For my time here I have seen disgustingly little of the rest of the country, but I have had my fair share of wasted lazy days. In retrospect it is probably a bad trade-off that newcomers to Japan may wish to avoid regretting.