Japan is one of the most overworked countries in the world. They even have a term for death by overwork — karoshi. And according to the country’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, the rate of employees who used their paid holidays in 2017 was only at 51.1 percent.
This was verified in an Ipsos survey in 2018, which ranked Japan the lowest among 15 countries when it comes to the number of workers who said they will use all their vacation days.
In an attempt to encourage more employees to take time off, a Buddhist ceremony to mourn unused paid holidays will be held on Japan’s Labour Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday that falls on November 23, Japan Today reported.
The ceremony called “Yukyu Joka,” or “paid holiday purification,” was organised by Ningen Co Ltd, and will take place in Tokyo. It will be celebrated like a kuyo, a ceremony held for inanimate objects that are not needed anymore, as a way to symbolise the work they have done, and pray for skills to do the work that lies ahead. In a sense, the Yukyu Joka will be the kuyo for holiday leaves.
A Buddhist priest will head the ceremony, which will include activities that encourage guests to reflect on the importance of taking time off work.
There will be 300 lanterns around the venue that symbolise the “spirit” of unused holidays. Each lantern will bear a message about the regret that comes from not taking a leave. These messages will be selected from submissions entered through the event’s official website. One giant lantern will take centre stage, and will feature stories of times people didn’t use their holidays.
The “spirit” of the unused holidays will be mourned, and then “purified” by the priest’s prayers.
According to Japan Today, one submitted submitted story says: "I had to postpone my daughter's nursery school birthday party from May until December, and she cried.”
"My first child was born as I was polishing off a hamburger on a golf course in Houston,” a man shared about one of his business trips.
People will also be able to write messages on the lanterns at the ceremony and light them up. Paper strips will be handed out to guests who suggest ways one can spend a 5-day holiday.
The ceremony could be cathartic for many in Japan who feel overworked. About one-quarter of companies in the country require employees to work more than 80 hours of overtime every month. It has gotten so bad that the country is seeing increasing work-stress related heart failures and suicides, pushing the government to encourage people to take time off.
Changes have also come from the organisations themselves. In August, Microsoft Japan tried out a four-day work week, which resulted in a 40 percent boost in productivity.