Last week was Golden Week, a run of national holidays that fall in mid-spring, right when the weather is turning warm and beautiful. As one of the longest vacation periods of the year, Golden Week gives the Japanese a nice break from work to relax and enjoy life.
Or it would, if Japan didn’t have the most masochistic culture on earth.
This year, the four holidays that make up Golden Week- the Emperor’s birthday, Memorial Day, Green Day and Children’s Day- fell on a Friday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Personally, I look at this situation and think, “Great! By taking just two days of PTO, we can all effectively have a ten-day vacation!” Except the Japanese never take time off work. And they work on Saturdays. So the long weekend was a no-go, and even for the Tuesday to Thursday stretch, my fellow teachers unanimously told me they spent their rare vacation days cleaning or doing yard work. Sometimes I think they want to be unhappy, like suffering is a virtue or something.
Take for example my school’s 50th anniversary. Typically, students and teachers look forward to their school’s birthday because classes are canceled and everyone gets a day off. However, since my school was turning the big 5-0, a huge ceremony was planned to mark the occasion. My school was founded on April 24,1960, so it’s golden anniversary was Saturday, April 24, 2010. Not only did we miss out on our vacation day because it fell on a weekend, WE HAD TO GO TO SCHOOL AN EXTRA DAY to attend the ceremony!!
I pretty sure such an event would never fly in the US because 1) ceremonies are boring, 2) no one want to go to school on Saturday, and mostly 3) no one cares. A lot of expats complain that no matter how hard they try to fit in, how long they’ve lived in Japan, how fluent their Japanese is, foreigners are still always treated differently than native Japanese. Personally, not fitting in has never made me happier. Being a foreigner, my boss assumes that I will use my vacation days and that I won’t come to school if I’m sick. I’d rather be different and on vacation than over-worked and depressed like everyone else.