Paid Leave and Vacations in Japan

Photo of Keiko Kimoto

Keiko Kimoto

Sales Associate at TokyoDev

Japan has a reputation for being a country of overworked people who never take holidays. While this has been true in the past, the government has been trying to incentivize people to take more vacations and enjoy better work-life balance. Some challenges remain from a cultural perspective, but what employees are legally entitled to exceeds what is guaranteed in North America, and is on par with much of Europe.

This article will help you understand what holidays you’re entitled to receive in Japan, along with what you can expect to be able to actually take.

Legal working hours in Japan are regulated by the Labor Standards Law (労働基準法, roudou kijun-hou). Companies can require employees to work up to 40 hours a week and 8 hours a day. There is an exception for companies with fewer than 10 employees in the following industries, which can require up to 44 hours a week:

  • Commerce (商業, shougyou)
  • Film and theater industry (映画演劇業, eiga engekigyou)
  • Healthcare (保険衛生業, hoken eiseigyou)
  • Hospitality and entertainment industry (接客娯楽業, sekkyaku gorakugyou)

Regarding legal holidays, the Labor Standards Law stipulates that a company must give their employees at least one day off per week, or, alternatively, four holidays per four weeks.

Annual paid leave

The Labor Standards Law also stipulates the annual paid leave system (年次有給休暇, nenji yuukyuu kyuuka). This system grants annual paid leave of at least 10 working days after an employee has worked for the company for 6 months for at least 80% of all working days. The amount of paid leave an employee is legally entitled to depends on the number of years they have worked for the company, as indicated below.

Years you've worked for the company 0.5 1.5 2.5 3.5 4.5 5.5 ≥ 6.5
Annual paid leave (days) you can take 10 11 12 14 16 18 20

Of those 10 to 20 days of paid leave, the timing of five of those days may be set by the company. That’s because it became the company’s obligation to ensure employees take at least five days of paid leave annually as part of the Workplace Reform Bill (働き方改革法案, hatarakikata kaikaku houan) enacted in 2019. Otherwise, it may result in a fine of 300,000 yen per employee in violation of the bill.

The paid leave outlined by the Labor Standards Law is only the legally-required minimum, so the actual number of days off may vary depending on the company. According to the survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in October 2023, the average amount of paid annual leave in 2022 was 17.6 days, which was the same as in 2021. Of those 17.6 days offered by companies, 10.9 days were actually taken by employees on average in 2022, up from 10.3 days in 2021. The take-up rate in 2022, 62.1%, marked the highest since 1984.

TokyoDev’s survey in 2023, on the other hand, indicates that international software engineers working in Japan receive more time off than the Japanese average. 40.6% of respondents received 20 days or more of paid leave.

If you don’t use up your annual paid leave, it expires after two years. Those days off aren’t required to be paid out, so if you don’t take them, it’s simply a lost benefit. However, up to 20 days of paid leave can be carried over to the following year.

For example, if you didn’t use 10 days of paid leave in 2023, and 20 days were newly granted in 2024, you could take up to 30 days of paid leave in 2024. But if you only take five days in 2024, those would be counted as five days of the 10 days carried over from 2023, so the remaining five unused days from 2023 would be lost forever. The 20 days newly granted in 2024, however, would be carried over to 2025.

Other types of statutory leave

Other than annual paid leave, there are other types of leave stipulated by the Labor Standards Law.

This includes Childcare at Birth Leave (出生時育児休業, shusshouji ikuji kyuugyou), Childcare Leave (育児休業, ikuji kyuugyou), and Child-Nursing Leave (子の看護休暇, ko no kango kyuuka), which I’ve already covered in another article.

Family care leave

Family care leave (介護休業, kaigo kyuugyou) is defined as leave taken by an employee in order to care for a family member who requires assistance for more than two weeks due to injury, illness, or physical or mental disability. The period of the leave is limited to a total of 93 days per family member. While taking this time off, employees don’t usually get paid by the company, but are eligible to receive 67% of their salary as a benefit of employment insurance.

Menstrual leave

Menstrual leave (生理休暇, seiri kyuuka) is granted by Article 68 of the Labor Standards Law to ensure the employer does not force a female employee to work when she has extreme difficulty during menstruation. Employers are not obligated to pay for Menstrual Leave, so it’s up to company policy whether it’s paid time off or not.

Special leave

In addition to the legally-mandated types of leave described above, companies also sometimes offer various kinds of special leave (特別休暇, tokubetsu kyuuka). These policies are not dictated by the law, but determined by each company independently. Not every company offers these types of time off.

Celebration or condolence leave

This leave is provided when an employee has congratulatory or mourning events (慶弔休暇, keichou kyuuka). That could include marriage, childbirth, or a death in the family. Typical examples are:

  • Your own marriage (3-5 days)
  • The marriage of your child (1-2 days)
  • Your spouse gives birth (1-3 days)
  • Death of your spouse (7-10 days)
  • Death of your child or parents (5-7 days)

But the number of days will vary from company to company.

Sick leave

Sick leave (病気休暇, byouki kyuuka) is given when an employee needs to take time off for medical treatment or to go to the hospital. If the absence lasts longer than three days, and the company doesn’t offer paid time off, the employer’s health insurance will pay a daily stipend equivalent to two-thirds of the employee’s average salary over the past 12 months.

Summer (Obon) vacation

Summer vacation (夏季休暇, kaki kyuuka) is generally given during Obon season, which is August 13-15. During this holiday, many people have family events or visit relatives’ graves.

Refreshment leave

Refreshment Leave (リフレッシュ休暇, rifuresshu kyuuka) is usually offered when an employee has worked for the company for a certain period of time. For example, a company might offer three days off after the employee has worked for them for three years.

Birthday leave

Birthday Leave (誕生日休暇, tanjoubi kyuuka) allows employees to take one day off in the month of their birthday.

Holidays in Japan

All the different kinds of leave mentioned above exclude public holidays, which are treated differently under Japanese law.

Definition of holiday versus paid leave

Holidays (休日, kyuujitsu) are the days on which you are not obligated to work. If you work on holidays, you should be paid extra, because you’re working on a day that you are eligible to take off. On the other hand, paid leave (休暇, kyuuka) is time during which people are obligated to work, but don’t do so for personal reasons.

If you take paid leave, but are required to work during it, the employer generally cancels your paid leave while giving you alternative days off (振替休日, furikae kyuujitsu), or pays you for the actual hours worked.

There are two types of holidays in Japan: legal holidays (法定休日, houteikyuujitsu) and regular holidays (所定休日, shoteikyuujitu). The holidays stipulated in Article 35 of the Labor Standards Law are regarded as legal holidays. These include Sundays, national holidays, and observed holidays.

Regular holidays are those that are decided by individual companies, even though there is no legal obligation to have them. Examples of regular holidays are Saturdays, the day after national holidays, and company-specific holidays such as the company’s founding anniversary.

As mentioned above, you should receive extra pay when you work on any holiday. If you work on regular holidays you should receive more than 25% extra, while on legal holidays it should be more than 35% extra.

Japanese national holidays

Japanese national holidays are called National Celebration Days (国民の祝日, kokumin no hukujitsu). They are determined by the Act on National Holidays (国民の祝日に関する法律, kokumin no hukujitu ni kansuru houritsu), and there are 16 national holidays in Japan.

  • New Year’s Day (元日, ganjitsu)
  • Coming of Age Day (成人の日, seijin no hi)
  • National Foundation Day (建国記念の日, kenkoku kinen no hi)
  • Emperor’s Birthday (天皇誕生日, tennou anjoubi)
  • Vernal Equinox Day (春分の日, shunbun no hi)
  • Showa Day (昭和の日, shouwa no hi)
  • Constitution Memorial Day (憲法記念日, kenpou kinenbi)
  • Greenery Day (みどりの日, midori no hi)
  • Children’s Day (こどもの日, Kodomo no hi)
  • Marine Day (海の日, umi no hi)
  • Mountain Day (山の日, yama no hi)
  • Respect for the Aged Day (敬老の日, keirou no hi)
  • Autumnal Equinox Day (秋分の日, shuubun no hi)
  • Sports Day (スポーツの日, supo-tsu no no hi)
  • Culture Day (文化の日, bunka no hi)
  • Labor Thanksgiving Day (勤労感謝の日, kinrou kansha no hi)

If a national holiday falls on a Sunday, the holiday will be observed on the next weekday after the holiday. In most cases, it is the following Monday, and we call them “Observed Holiday” in the holiday list below.

Japanese national holidays in 2024 and 2025

Holiday 2024 2025
New Year’s Day January 1st January 1st
Coming of Age Day January 8th January 13th
National Foundation Day February 11th February 11th
Observed Holiday February 12th -
Emperor's Birthday February 23rd February 23rd
Observed Holiday - February 24th
Vernal Equinox Day March 20th March 20th
Showa Day April 29th April 29th
Constitution Memorial Day May 3rd May 3rd
Greenery Day May 4th May 4th
Children’s Day May 5th May 5th
Observed Holiday May 6th May 6th
Marine Day July 15th July 21st
Mountain Day August 11th August 11th
Observed Holiday August 12th -
Respect for the Aged Day September 16th September 15th
Autumnal Equinox Day September 22nd September 23rd
Observed Holiday September 23rd -
Sports Day October 14th October 13th
Culture Day November 3rd November 3rd
Observed Holiday November 4th -
Labor Thanksgiving Day November 23rd November 23rd
Observed Holiday - November 24th

Conclusion

As you can see, Japan offers a variety of time off, both legally-mandated and culturally-dictated. But since a number of these are dependent on your company’s goodwill, it’s important to understand your organization’s leave policies before you sign on. In addition, you should now have a good grasp of what’s owed to you under Japanese law. Don’t be hesitant to push for the extra holiday pay or required time off that a company is obligated to give you.

More about the author

Photo of Keiko Kimoto

Keiko Kimoto

Sales Associate at TokyoDev

In addition to helping TokyoDev with sales and back-end operations, Keiko is the founder of MALOU, a company that leverages her previous experience in the food and household goods industries to provide planning and consulting services.

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