Japanese people have a reputation for working very long hours with only a few paid holidays. However, what most people tend to overlook is that Japan has relatively generous national holidays mandated by the government, which allow most of the Japanese workforce to take well-deserved breaks throughout the year. In Japan, there are 15 national holidays spread throughout the year, which is slightly more than the average of 11 or 12 holidays that is common in most of the Asia pacific region.
The most important holiday season for Japanese people is the year-end holiday, or the New Year holiday (Shogatsu). Its importance is equivalent to Christmas holidays in Western areas, and even closer to the Chinese New Year holidays in Sino-regions. In fact, the Japanese New Year used to coincide with the Chinese New Year, as both regions follow the lunar calendar, but since the Meiji Restoration, Japan has shifted the holiday to coincide with the Gregorian calendar instead. During Shogatsu, Japanese people return to their hometowns and spend a week or so with their families, enjoying a special morning meal and offering prayers at the temple during the first day of the year, and then usually going out for a short excursion for the remaining time.
The second most important holiday season is Golden Week, where 4 national holidays fall within 7 days. On some years, these holidays fall just flanking the weekends, which creates a glorious (indeed, golden) week of rest and recreation. People with a bit of disposable income would use this week mainly for travel, domestically or internationally. As expected, trains, airports and highways on the start and end of holidays turn into first world traveler’s hell, and ticket prices go way up…
One of the most clever government policies to come out recently is the Happy Monday system, implemented in year 2000, and practices from than on, 4 traditional public holidays would be shifted to the nearest Monday to allow people longer weekends. Not only people could catch a good break, it did wonders for the domestic travel industry, as people now could afford to take a 2 or 3 day tour outside their residential prefecture. One of the unexpected effects of this policy is the impact it had on schools, where teachers having Monday classes often find themselves shortchanged on the time they have to complete the syllabus, so students in temporary joy of not having to go to classes end up dragging themselves back to school for make-up lessons on the weekends.